This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Grace & Truth: Responding to pain

Sara Dick

Last winter, walking to school one icy morning, my then-fifth grader slipped and fell on the ice—twice in half a block.

The first time, she bounced right back up. The second time she took just a little longer to get on her feet again. Then, after limping along for a few more steps, she just sat down on the sidewalk and waited.

She waited for the pain in her bruised knees to diminish. And when it had, she got up and finished the walk to school. “It always hurts the most at first, and it doesn’t really hurt now,” she said when she got up. As she walked the final block by herself, I heard the 10-minute bell ring. She had enough time even with her pause.

Hers was such a perfect response to pain: rest, assess, recover, move on. If she had needed a cast or a bandage, that would have been part of her recovery and would have taken longer. In this instance, though, all she needed was a little time on the ground.

When we adults are in pain, how do we rest, assess and recover so that moving on can happen well?

Come October, we in the middle of North America limp into a recovery phase from summer’s heat, breakneck growth and back-breaking labor. I imagine myself resting more as autumn’s nights lengthen, letting my back-to-school attention relax and giving way to dreams of spring: new gardens, adventures and celebrations of resurrection.

In reality, though, October can be even more harried than September: more sporting events, more exams, more reports, more meetings, more performances, more harvest festivals. The tardy bell seems always about to ring, recess is long in coming, and we’re stuck hanging out on the sidewalk nursing our bruised knees.

After chastising those who ignore his call to repentance, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Christ desires our healing and restoration as individuals, families, churches, communities, nations and our whole planet. But true rest is hard to come by, God knows.

In our workaday lives, weekends come and go, sometimes leaving us more tired than when Friday evening arrived. And vacations? Those can drain the sap right out of us. Time away from our jobs or studies is not necessarily restful.

Besides, I often try to sidestep pain by distracting myself from it even when I do have the time. I don’t think I’m alone in this tendency, if our society’s addiction rates are any indication. Whether through food, drink, gambling, sex or shopping, distraction runs rampant, leaving us no time to rest.

Still, Christ desires our healing and restoration as individuals, families, churches, communities, nations and our whole planet.

Look at Ferguson, Mo. People there experienced deep pain after the death of Michael Brown in early August. Some people literally sat down on the sidewalk to assess the damage and begin their recovery. But people’s pain is often accompanied by anger, as it was for many in Ferguson, which makes rest difficult and maybe even inappropriate. So some people stood on the sidewalks and protested this young man’s death.

Christ desires healing and restoration for all residents and officers in Ferguson even in the midst of protests and counter-protests.

“Come to me … and I will give you rest.”

At the church I serve, worship includes two one-minute times of quiet (not silence, since babies and coughers aren’t banned) for reflection on the Scripture or sermon we’ve just heard. The goal of everyone present is the same—to be a faithful and vibrant church—but we have different clocks by which we measure our time “on the sidewalk.” For some, those two minutes are the most excruciating of the whole service.

For others, though, those quiet moments allow them to rest in God’s presence, even though we know God is present on sidewalks and in cars and in stores and schools and offices, too. During 60 seconds of quiet rest, one can begin to assess the week’s trials and joys and begin to recover a sense of belovedness and mission to carry into the coming week.

We might even hear anew Christ’s promise: “Come to me … and I will give you rest.”

Sara Dick is pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. This is from the “Grace & Truth: A word from pastors” column in The Mennonite. This article appeared in the October print issue.

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