There are some who, willing or not, have the task of hosting pain.
With or without permission, the cries of the world take root in our chests.
The tears wash through any deception in our blood that life is bliss.
We feel deeply. It is our calling perhaps.
Our own pain is significant, but we also taste the despair of others.
We possess the ability to see and to know the depth of human suffering….maybe because we have encountered it ourselves, even if only internally.
In the dark alleys of our hearts, are shadows of rejection, isolation, and death that are mysteriously our friends and enemies simultaneously.
Like the Thestrals in the Harry Potter story, in which only those who have seen death can see these beings that represent it, some of us can look into the eyes of another and know the deep anguish that resides beneath.
We can see it and breathe it.
We can recognize the devastation, the disappointment, because we are well-acquainted.
Because it dwells within us.
The biblical book of Job has always spoken to me on a level that feels just beyond my comprehension, just outside my grasp.
My eyes absorb the words and something within my heart is shaken.
“Wake up” the story whispers to me.
And my heart is taken captive by the narrative.
Not forcefully, but more akin to a surrender.
I have never experienced the tragic events held in the narrative of Job.
Not exactly. Not in “real life.”
I have not lost my closest family members to death or suffered so immensely from a physical ailment that marginalizes me from others.
Yet, I feel connected to Job, whether he is a literal or figurative character.
The truth of the narrative seeps through my pores and somehow finds itself already nested within my bones.
It is mysteriously a new story each time, yet one that feels as if we have known each other very well all along.
Job represents a tragedy, a truth, that is difficult for most to embrace.
Pain is naturally something we do not care to keep company.
We don’t understand it, can’t make sense of it.
And we want so desperately to get rid of it the moment it knocks on our door.
We peek to see what’s on the other side of that door.
We duck so it cannot see us through the windows.
We dive behind couches, close the blinds and curtains.
We plug our ears so we don’t feel as guilty or nervous about the seemingly relentless knocks and doorbells.
Suffering is an unwelcome visitor.
But I have realized that some of us have less of a choice.
Like others, we can certainly resist opening the door.
But pain keeps knocking; he is persistent.
And we recognize it through the peep hole.
It is real and it is part of life.
We know it must go somewhere.
Thus, we are left with a decision to make.
Hide, ignore, avoid eye contact?
We could surely resist and put up a fight, and we often do to some degree.
Or, we could open the door and allow the visitor to enter.
We might even greet her and offer a place to sit.
Be hospitable to pain.
What an odd concept.
Why would anyone want to welcome suffering in, let alone host it for any period of time?
This brings us back to the idea that some do not have as much choice as they would perhaps like to have.
We certainly all suffer and experience pain to some degree.
However, this is not exactly what I mean by being hospitable.
Hosting pain is instead an openness to the depths of humanity.
It is a willingness to allow fear, sadness, and anguish to enter and even set roots.
I’m convinced this is the burden that some have been asked to bear.
There are those in my life whom I have seen carry this task.
And I have felt and been told by those closest to me that I too carry this burden.
Yet…it is also a great gift.
For to be open to the depths also allows one to know the heights more fully.
To know in a way that is beyond words and that can transform our very being.
When the pain and suffering carve out paths in our heart and mind, there is more room for the truth of love, grace, and forgiveness to also wash through our bodies and our lives.
When we host pain, we also let his close cousin joy come through our door.
And we are able to cherish her because we know her kin.
For joy and suffering are closer cousins than one might think.
The light is incomprehensible unless we have truly seen darkness.
They are indistinguishable without one another.
Suffering, then, might be viewed as a great gift.
A costly one for sure, but a gift nevertheless.
And we can give of ourselves with this ability we have.
Our hospitality is also extended to those who have suffered.
We can hold them, embrace them, because we hold pain.
Their suffering certainly moves us, it can even overtake us…for a time.
But it does enslave us, not in the end.
For we are its host. We have opened the door and allowed it to sit with us.
I believe we each have opportunities in our lives to host this pain.
And it is never as simple as I may make it sound here…and certainly never easy.
As I reflect on my own life, I am also keenly aware of the cost and the ways in which even this “strength” or “ability” is not always used for good.
Very recently, grief and pain have been just below the surface for me.
They have arose from their dormant cavities.
The light has been harder to see at times and I have found myself reflecting on Job.
But recently thoughts of Christ have interrupted and filled my mind.
And not the light, glowing Christ that adorns children’s bibles.
Instead the human Christ, the one with the broken body.
The son of a father who sent him to take on all the depth and breadth of suffering.
Christ, though fully God, also stood as human and hosted the pain of the world.
As Christians, we often speak of ourselves as followers of Jesus.
We talk of Christ or the Spirit dwelling within us.
And in my darkest of hours, when I struggle to be hospitable to my (limited) suffering, I remember that I am not alone.
Because Christ also enters that door when we host pain.
In fact, we cannot behold Jesus without seeing the tragedy of the world.
We simply cannot gaze into his eyes without the pain of all humanity coming through to meet us.
We cannot be held by him, except by hands that still bear the wounds of suffering.
Or be kissed except with the lips that have also tasted the full bitterness of sin and death.
But even in the tragedy of that reality, I am encouraged and reminded that pain and suffering, even death, cannot reside in the house forever.
They will be driven out by something greater, to which they have no answer.
And I am reminded of Henri Nouwen’s poignant words:
“If the God who revealed life to us, and whose only desire is to bring us to life, loved us so much that he wanted to experience with us the total absurdity of death, then—yes, then there must be hope; then there must be something more than death; then there must be a promise that is not fulfilled in our short existence in this world; then leaving behind the ones you love, the flowers and the trees, the mountains and the oceans, the beauty of art and music, and all the exuberant gifts of life, cannot be just the destruction and cruel end of all things; then indeed we have to wait for the third day.”
And I smile through tears…and offer thanks for the third day when Christ will be the host and there will be no pain and suffering to attend to.