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Silence Is A Cancer

The thing about pain is that it is universal. It lives inside of us – grief cohabiting with joy, unrest nestling with peace. We can’t escape it but we spend all of our energy trying to surpress it. Sometimes it lets up and joy wins for a time; and sometimes it spreads like a wildfire, consuming everything good.

The thing about me is that I’m a silent sufferer. The more intense the pain, the quieter I become, until I forget how to use my words to ask for help.

I’ve always been crazy about justice, wanting to make sure everyone gets what they deserve. It made me a little unforgiving as a child, and emotionally stunted as an adult living in a broken world. But thank the Lord that mercy triumphs over judgment. I don’t know when it started, but somehow – not by my own might – I began choosing mercy rather than judgment. And now, I’m the girl who can’t bring herself to hate a mass murderer; the girl who can’t bring herself to write a Facebook status about how she doesn’t understand how messed up and evil a person would have to be to kill dozens of people; the girl who feels overwhelming sympathy for the people we label as devils.

You know why? Cause I understand that we’re all in pain. We don’t admit it – I don’t admit it – until it eats away at all our healthy flesh and consumes us from the inside out. Everyone starts off thinking that they’re strong enough to be better than the next person. I’ll never cheat on my husband. I’ll never get to the point where picking up a gun and pointing it at someone is my release. I could never engage in non-consensual sex with a woman. We all start there, but we’re all in pain. And if we don’t choose to find our words and ask for help, if we don’t stop perpetuating this myth that suffering in silence is being strong, if we don’t let each other feel and grieve and mourn and break – we will all end up killing the good things around us too.

I can’t hate a mass murderer because his pain is not foreign to me. I can only imagine that they are silent sufferers too – ones who were told that to be strong is to wear a perma-smile and act like everything’s fine, until it’s not. Sure, I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t even know how. But I’ve at times gotten so deeply lost in my own pain that I begin to lash out at the people around me, even the people who love me. In an effort to find a reprieve, I’ve killed good friendships, hurt good men, used my tongue to lacerate my loved ones, and walked away from people who needed me. Sure, it doesn’t get the position of honor on the 9 o’clock news, but I have left my own trail of wounded, hurting people in my frantic attempt to stop my heart from hurting so much.

I’ve had my own share of trauma and abuse and heartache. And I spent years hating the inflicters of my pain until I realized that they are just as broken as I am. No, that doesn’t excuse what they did or give them any right to repeat it again. But it helps me not to demonize them, because only broken people hurt other people. And we’re all broken in various places.

So I can’t hate them. I will never condone the acts of evil they carry out in their own quest for peace, and I will never underestimate the agony the hearts of those directly affected have to endure. What I will do is remember my own brokenness, and that I am only one step away from their hell. That step is graceful surrender. The only thing that will keep me from being a cheating wife or an abusive mother or a mass murderer is the choice to not rely on my own ability to be good and do what’s right, but instead to make an honest confession that I’m broken and I’m in pain and Jesus’ grace is the only reason why I don’t go out and try to break other people. And that surrender, that choice, needs to happen moment by moment, not one time long ago in the back pew of your parents’ church.

Let’s celebrate together the joy and beauty we discover amidst the filth in this world. But let us also embrace the pain and stop telling each other to be “strong” and suck it up and pretend like we’re fine. Strength is found in raw honesty, in beautiful vulnerability. Don’t entrust your heart to people who tell you that breaking is a sign of weakness, or that feelings are for little girls. Even Jesus wept. If we don’t start breaking on a regular basis, we’re all going to be walking around with emotional tumors that can rupture at any moment.

I’m no better than that guy on the news, and neither are you. We’re all in pain. There’s a time to laugh and dance and sing, and there’s a time to break. If we don’t let ourselves break, we end up breaking others. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break.

***The best gift I’ve ever given myself is going to counseling. No, it’s not for the “crazies” – it’s for everyone who breathes. Yes, it can be expensive and intimidating. But I’d rather starve for a few days every couple of weeks than remain emotionally stunted. Recommend is not a strong enough word for the situation, but if you need a safe place to break and it is in your power to do it, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing a counselor. Your heart will thank you a million times.***

Soul Graffiti

My heart is a room in an old country home, spacious and open. At first, the walls were white, untarnished, gloriously pristine. But everyone who entered that room left it different than they met it, and eventually, my once pristine walls were completely covered. Some of the foreign matter was beautiful – vibrant reds and soothing yellows, sultry greens and cozy blues. But with the beauty came the grotesque. There were ugly words scribbled all over the once lovely paint, and it became increasingly difficult to see those vibrant hues through the hard words etched within.

The first words I read were etched deeply, filling up the room with their nauseating presence: you are not good enough. The author of those words spent time making deep carvings, ensuring that it would be a difficult task to undo what he did. And his doing opened the door for everyone else to follow suit.

Overcompensating for the damage done, I sent everyone packing and sealed the room off. But the fumes from the paint suffocated me, and there was no one in there to share in my suffering or remind me of the joy I once knew. I thought I had to protect myself; thought I had to be aloof and impenetrable to survive in a world where people gathered with their cans of spray paint and treated your heart like a train stopped on the tracks – painting their hurts and disease and brokenness and trauma on you.

I’m learning that instead of creating a concrete tomb to die in, all I need is a paint roller and my favorite colors. Sometimes people hurt others as a way to process through their own pain – it’s the way of broken people in a broken world. But some people bring joy and laughter and long, tight hugs on days when the pain threatens to topple you. And by trying to close out the bad, I also close out the good.

I want the good. All of the good.

So I’m purchasing a paint roller, and every time I find something ugly and hurtful being written on my walls, I’m going to paint over it with strong, confident strokes. And in its place I will write what’s true and good and lovely and pure. And I’ll let the only One who can truly protect my heart do His job – I’ll stop trying to help Him save me.

I don’t want a room with bare walls – that’s boring, safe, and not who I want to be. I don’t want a room covered in darkness and shame – that’s not who I want to be either. I want radiant colors and a beautiful story, and I want people to live out that story with. I want a heart that feels lived in. I want walls that tell a story of love, redemption, and triumph. And I want people. I choose people over my fears and self-defense mechanisms. I choose the possibility of hurt over the lifelessness of a caged heart.

I’m painting away, and today, everything’s a pleasant shade of summer squash. And the words being graffitied on the walls of my heart are ones of courage, and love, and wholeness.

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