Few things in life are as powerful as a question. The right question, at exactly the right moment, stops you dead in your tracks. One such question for me is:
Where does it hurt?
This question pulls me deep into myself, grips my heart and forces me to pay attention. “I’m good” ceases to be an acceptable response to any question. I’m no longer distracted by what the future holds or lost in my rambling thoughts. Instead I’m reminded that I hold deep pain.
As I consider this question, for a moment I’m able to admit that everything is not okay, and for a moment, I don’t have to pretend that it is. This is both liberating and terrifying. Liberating because I secretly long to name my pain and have it acknowledged. Terrifying because I’m not always ready to feel the depth of the hurt or do the work necessary to heal. On some level, I’m aware that I carry the pains of my past with me. Pain from the wounds of physical/emotional abuse and neglect. It surfaces whenever I experience conflict. My adrenaline surges, heartrate quickens and stomach churns, as soon my fight or flight response kicks in. Its triggered during almost any form of interpersonal conflict, even if the conflict doesn’t involve me. I can simply be in the presence of two people arguing and suddenly feel completely overwhelmed and uncomfortable.
My pain also breaks through in the form of intense doubt. I have a vivid memory of my mother telling me she had to leave which meant my siblings and I were going into foster care. As she walked through the door and out of my life, I felt abandoned and unloved. As if the reason she left was because I wasn’t worthy of her love anymore. This insecurity colors every relationship I have. At some point, I overanalyze every verbal and nonverbal cue I receive, desperately searching for evidence of my acceptance or rejection. As soon as I suspect I’m not fully accepted, my heart drops into my stomach, a knot develops in my throat and my palms sweat. I can feel the alarm bells of anxiety ringing loudly in my chest as my subconscious recalls my stored memories of rejection. Once this cycle begins, I spiral into a panic and search even more frantically for evidence that I’m not being rejected which triggers an even greater physiological response.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to bury these emotions, so that I don‘t feel them as intensely. Despite my best efforts, even my buried emotions are still felt. The emotions I tuck away and hide feel like I’m wearing a concrete vest that constricts my chest and shoulders. Wearing the vest day in and day out fatigues me, so that some days I don’t even want to get out of bed. I long to be free of this weight, yet I fear the intensity of the emotion that has been buried. The pressure used to bury the emotions has not dissipated, so once the concrete vest comes off, I may face an eruption of lost memories or hidden truths. That is what makes liberation so terrifying, and so easy to avoid…until I see that question.
Where does it hurt?
Suddenly I am aware that I’m only pretending to be ok. I wear a mask to hide my feelings from the world and from myself. This reminds me of a scene from the 1994 cinematic masterpiece The Mask. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie yet…it was made in ‘94, you had your chance. Just before Jim Carey puts on the mask for the first time, he looks in the mirror and mockingly repeats a quote he heard from a psychiatrist on tv. “We all wear masks…metaphorically speaking.” Jim Carey’s voice is stuck in my head, and I think it is important that its stuck in yours as well, so click this link and fast-forward to the 0:41 mark. You’re welcome 🙂!
We all wear masks. They hide us, protect us and help us blend in. Case in point: my dad passed away nearly three months ago. I’ve done my best to move forward, but as Christmas draws near, I miss him. I’m acutely aware that he won’t hug me when I walk in the door and his laugh won’t fill the room as he plays with my nieces and nephews. The holidays just won’t be the same without him. I’m grieving daily, yet when people ask me how I am, I have no idea how to respond. I say something like “I’m good” or “I’m as good as can be expected”.
If I were to answer honestly, I’d say: “I miss my dad. It sucks that I have to celebrate Christmas without him. Some days I feel depressed, and other days I’m in denial. It doesn’t feel like he’s really gone. I just really wish he were here so I could talk to him again. I want to hear him say my name one more time...” The thought of being this open and vulnerable is terrifying. It triggers my fears of rejection because I don’t trust that people really want to know how I feel. So, I put on the mask, hide myself, and pretend I’m ok. Occasionally, I come across someone who notices the mask and asks to see who is behind it. These people are genuinely curious about how I’m feeling. They don’t try to solve my problems. They listen are sit with me in my discomfort. Sometimes they have advice, and other times they just want to ensure I don’t feel alone. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to take the mask off when I’m around them, and it feels refreshing.
I’m also learning that God desperately wants me to experience relationship, wholeness and healing. When I say “God”, I’m referencing the ground of all being; that invisible, ineffable connection between all living things. That deep knowing within me. God cares about my brokenness, knows where my open wounds are and wants me to heal. Moreover, God’s intention is broader than my own individual healing, relationship and wholeness. God desires and is actively working towards these ends for every person. I’ll unpack more about how I understand God in later blog posts. For now, know that this thing that is bigger than any individual person, tradition or context; this thing that is experienced as conscience, love and connection, is actively working to help us experience healing. Call it what you want, but the language most familiar to me is God. One of the ways God brings me back to the work of healing is through this question.
Where does it hurt?
As I reflect upon it, I feel an invitation into the deep parts of myself. Sometimes this invitation is mediated through friends or family who care about me, and other times it is just me and God working through the masks I wear until we get to my authentic self. Regardless, this question is an invitation that I want to share with you.
I invite you to take two minutes today and hold this question seriously. Talk it over with someone who loves you, hold it in your daily meditation or chew on it while you work out. Give yourself space to breathe deeply, feel deeply and know deeply. Once you’re ready, let this question stop you in your tracks.
My friend, where does it hurt?