“I have the privilege now and then of walking with people who have encountered deep and profound hurts in their lives. They wonder aloud to me whether they will ever be better. Big hurts are so profound they make the very act of breathing hard. They sear into our souls to a degree that we can hardly imagine life returning to “normal” again. And the hard truth is that life never really does return to its old normal again. Our only dying hope in these valleys of pain (and it is a type of death) is that we will emerge on the other side alive. Perhaps wiser, perhaps stronger but in our darkest moments, emerging alive is enough.
The big hurts of our lives will change us. The question is how. Buried in this question is also the source of our strength – because the question of how we will be changed depends significantly on ourselves. Will we become wiser, stronger, more compassionate people? Or will we become embittered, angry and sullen?
Again and again I come back to a quote that was shared with me more than 15 years ago: Hanging onto resentment is like drinking poison but expecting the other person to die. Sometimes we know we are drinking poison but it has become like an addiction and it is hard to stop. Sometimes we want to stop but don’t know how. Sometimes the pain is so deep it is as though the poison is being thrust into us by an unseen hand that refuses to let up. But every now and then, the glory of our human spirit is greater than the resentments that threaten us. And in those moments, our spirits soar – sometimes tentatively, sometimes boldly – but always with great courage toward a future more profound and more whole than the hurts that once were killing us.”
I wrote this blog on my personal website some years ago. As I re-read it now, memories of my own dark valleys emerge for me. It is an act of tremendous courage to stay in those dark valleys long enough for them to teach us what we need to learn. It is an act of equal courage to seek the hand that reaches into that dark space to pull us out back into the light once more. What is clear to me is that we are never alone in this journey – from our falling into the valley to our arising from it. What is also clear is that we dare not rush our exist from these deep valleys. In Christian faith we affirm that Good Friday always comes before Easter, death before resurrection, cross before empty tomb. And in the strange structure of our human condition, it appears that we must likewise enter our own suffering in order to reveal the essence of who we are called to be. Our suffering is our crucible. If we allow it, we emerge on the other side, deeply transformed and whole in fully new ways.
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Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change. Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.