When he has nothing better to do, my dog chews and chews one spot on his right leg. His fur is clumpy and wet there, bloodied pink skin peeking through. It’s possible that he once had an injury, or even a fleabite there, something worthy of gnawing. Now, though, all the attention and worry is simply habit.
People are that way, too. As we age, conversations focus on aches and pains––bursitis, arthritis, cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. It’s almost a rite of passage to reach the place where one’s world narrows to comparisons of doctor’s visits and the minutia of one’s health with a capital H.
As I juggle acupuncture, naturopath, physical therapy and chiropractor appointments for my own litany of ailments, I think such attention to our physical failings can be bad for our spirits, if not our bodies. Like my dog, we become fixated on what is wrong, ignoring what is going well. Our worldview then is dictated by how we feel, and our outlook can become as constricted as our arteries.
A clergy friend recently noted, “We have become a culture bound together by our woundedness.” We find ways to relate to one another based on how we’ve been hurt. You have cancer; so do I. Your kid ran away; so did mine. You were abused by a lover; so was I. It is comforting to find others who understand our pain, who have experienced our particular trauma. If we’re going to overcome our addictions or our wounds, we do need people who have shared our misery.
Twelve step groups demonstrate excellently this aspect of community healing. We need help in the form of other people, and in the form of the higher power beyond ourselves [I call it God] if we are going to stop licking our wounds and move forward with our lives. Left to our own devices, we’ll act like my dog, keeping that wound fresh.
We all know people who wear their pain as if printed on their T-shirts: Hit by a drunk driver; life ruined. Husband ran out; life ruined. Small business failed; life ruined. Viet Nam Vet; life ruined. But it’s dangerous to define who we are by our brokenness. When we do, we box ourselves into permanent suffering. We circumvent the healing process, never allowing a scab and then a scar to form.
We all know people who recount their old injury as though it occurred yesterday. And us unsuspecting folks who are new to the story, do think it happened yesterday. Usually, our reaction––outrage, sympathy, or offer of help––encourages those stuck in pain to remain there. Why? Because it’s a place where they can make human connection.
We all crave that connection. We want to be known and understood at deep levels. And, in a culture built on drama and reality shows and TV news that tout our pain and suffering in front of total strangers, forming relationships based on healthy behaviors and the wholeness of the person sounds incredibly boring.
If we don’t have our pain then what do we have? If we don’t have the story of our pain then what do we have to offer?
That’s where faith comes in. Belief that life can offer something beyond our familiar suffering. Faith that the tremendous effort it takes to break our familiar patterns is worth the risk, and the belief that growth––in and of itself––is worthwhile. My congregation states it this way in our core values and beliefs, “We find more grace in searching than in certainty––in questions than in answers.” We give ourselves permission to not know the answers, but to journey toward healing.
The body is cunningly designed to heal from injury. The soul, when we allow it, also has tremendous capacity to heal. Spiritual healing can be so subtle, that we often don’t notice it ourselves. It’s only when we look back that we can see where we’ve come from.
Other times, spiritual healing is so dramatic, we experience a fundamental shift in ourselves. Religions talk of dying to oneself and being born again, or born into eternal life. In the Old Testament, God says, “Behold I make all things new.”
You and I have seen this transformation in the lives of people who share their journeys with us. They tell how their brokenness led to healing, and the healing led to a passion for helping others, like the former drug addict who now counsels at-risk teens.
New life awaits when we have the courage to break out of our old patterns. Now, if only my dog would get the message.
©Cathy Warner 2006