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  • Writer's pictureJacob Skorka

Pain. Then What?

Here, have a beer, and let's talk about healing.

I'm no stranger to pain. Physical pain was a theme of my high school and college years, emotional pain is becoming a more realized theme for my current state, and spiritual pain is something that I have observed from a close distance. In some sense, I have experienced my own spiritual pain, but the spiritual pain that I've felt is mostly because of what has been projected on me or portrayed by people close to me. A lot of my spiritual pain is realized by stories that have been told to me, which could be telling of how painful it truly was, and still is.

Pain is human. Pain is an experience that we are privileged to have but is rarely seen as something good. Understandable.

Pain sucks. Whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, pain is an experience that is uncomfortable and hard to navigate. Agreeable.

Pain is necessary. Pain is an experience that opens space in our lives for growth, and most often when we don't want to grow. Annoying.

I'm writing this piece through two lenses. On one hand, I have my own thoughts and experiences - mostly through observation - that speak into these opinions. On the other hand, I have had a plethora of conversations with people who have been extremely hurt in recent years, and I want to approach this without disregarding or downplaying their wounds.

I'm specifically addressing spiritual pain, here. I have come to realize that spiritual and emotional pain have a very close relationship. A relationship of causation, mostly. Spiritual pain today causes emotional pain tomorrow, and vice versa. This is something that I am realizing in conversations with dear friends, and with people I don't know well but are brave enough to let me into their life. I am noticing that I am no stranger to the topic of deconstructing, pain caused by superiors in religion, and the struggle of healing from pain caused by something so easy to mistake as an identity. In the past few years, I have witnessed people get burned by leaders they trusted deeply, I have seen pieces of thriving organizations crumble in a matter of days, and I have heard cries from the hearts of strong, strong individuals.

I am realizing all of this by sifting through the harsh words being spoken from an emotional place because the realization of the spiritual damage is delayed until the anger has center stage.

Disappointment comes after anger.

Feeling lost and alone comes after disappointment.

Anger comes from feeling lost and alone.

Disappointment comes after anger.

Feeling lost and alone comes after disappointment.

The cycle doesn't stop until there is someone or something to blame, or, the healthier and more productive realization of the root of it all. I'm led to a question that I have been dwelling on through these conversations.

How do you heal from pain when you didn't know it hurt until it was over?

I guess, the easy answer is knowing that unrealized pain is trauma and trauma can be treated through therapy. **This is your sign to go get help for past trauma.**

But, in a deeper sense, I'm fixated on practical ways to recover from something that was so painful for so long, but not realized until {insert amount of time} after. I find myself looking for the answers to a lot of questions. Questions like: did you know it was bad? How did you not see it? Did anybody tell you? Were you listening? If you were listening, did you do anything about it? Would doing something about it while it was happening have had any benefit? Is it better to face it? How do you know when something is bad for someone else? Can you be selfish in it? Would it even be considered selfishness? Should you stand your ground when you are called selfish?

I notice my desire for justice becoming deeper and deeper in the past few years. I often find myself wanting to go back to a specific time and punch some people in the throat for things they did to people who would never punch anybody in the throat. I get worked up by stories of leaders abusing subordinates in the name of the vision of the organization. I get frustrated by the truth that I don't know about it until the affected people are seeing real-life damage and then I'm humbled because of the perspective that I'm angered by their story, but it's a story that they are living.

How do you heal from something that you unknowingly persevered through?

I met a woman recently who is currently living in this very space that I'm talking about. She is on the back end of a life-changing few months that have caused wounds that she is now aware of, but I'm not convinced that she is as far along in her healing as she thinks she is. She has recognized what happened, and that is brave. Step one, some might say. To be frank, I'm worried that she is operating in a false strength spurred by the absence of the setting. She has moved on from the people and the place that has caused the wounds, but I worry that she is just gritting her teeth and pushing forward, justifying it by distractions of good deeds and active faith through ministry.

I hope I'm wrong.

In a recent conversation with her, she was bold enough to share her heart on a couple of my questions.

As I said, I wonder if you can know it is bad while it's happening. In her case, yes, to a degree. It wasn't until the tail end that she realized how bad it actually was. She mentioned that she didn't know for so long because she thought it was normal, then used the words "spiritual manipulation" when explaining what was happening.

Someone is being manipulated so intently that they believe it is normal. Woof.

I asked her if she tried to do anything about it or stand up for herself after realizing what was going on, and she said yes but only to be pinned as the villain. Financial leverage was used to force decisions in the interest of leaders, ultimatums were used to deepen manipulation, and a narrative of "you should be grateful for what I have provided you" was planted into her head, leading her to make the decision to remove herself and move on. That, in itself, is brave, but how does she heal?

I don't think her story is an anomaly. I think this is a common happening in the current American Christian structure and is a cause for the fad of deconstructing. I had a conversation with a friend not long ago on the idea of deconstructing. His stance is clear, millennials are getting soft and truth is being replaced by grace when we talk about Jesus things. I tend to agree with him on the second half of that thought, but I have been a lot closer to manipulation and spiritual damage than he has, which provides some empathy for people in the deconstructing space. My contribution to that conversation was that I don't think people are actually deconstructing their faith. I don't think people are deconstructing Jesus and His Gospel, but instead are realizing past hurt. Once hurt is realized they begin deconstructing what has happened to their heart and spirit in the past, then projecting that hurt onto the person of Jesus and making it Christianity's fault. I have yet to hear anybody say something along the lines of, "I can't believe what Jesus did to me while I was leading that group, and I will never lead for Him again." I have not been part of a conversation where a deconstructing Christian is deconstructing because of something that Jesus did to them. I have, however, heard a story similar to the one above far too frequently since becoming a Christian myself.

Maybe deconstructing is the process of healing. Maybe moving on, removing yourself from the people and the place causing hurt, is the process of healing. Maybe bringing the shit straight to the feet of Jesus and allowing Him the space He deserves to do what He does is the process of healing. Maybe you're better at that than I am.

I hope my new friend is one of the strongest people I have ever met. I hope she is taking this shit straight to the feet of Jesus, allowing Him the space to do what He does. Lord, I hope she is.

I want to have more conversations with people who are deconstructing and get to the nitty-gritty of what they are truly deconstructing. I want people who are healing to be able to sit down and tell me what the hell to do. But, when it comes down to it, I want people to stop being assholes when they have power.

Cheers to you for healing, and I'll pour one out for what was lost in the past.

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