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  • Wendy Elzinga

stay with the pain


A couple of weeks ago the Five minute Friday community wrote on the prompt "stay" I was at the time "staying off" social media as a signal of respect to voices that needed to be heard as well as spending time listening and learning, reading and observing, trying to understand as best I could the pain that an entire race of people have experienced for generations. I felt the conviction and the sting of spending years being somewhat just on the outskirts of their cries and feeling like I am ok because, I have black friends I have invited them over, gone to their weddings, I work with black clients, I had a black boss and supervisor that I highly respected and have had great relationships with my black coworkers. But I don't think I fully understood the extent of their day to day hardship and pain. And so I stayed with my own discomfort and saddness and remorse in order to start to "get it" and allow it to change me.

Pain is always something we try to move away from. We are physiologically wired to do it. Accidently touch a hot pan and your hand automatically moves away. But when we move away from the pain of conviction or fear or anxiety, we only strengthen what we move away from. It becomes a stronger force in our life. So we need to learn to stay with the pain. If we sit with pain, with guilt, anxiety with anger instead of react to it in a fight or flight manner, it often begins to soften. And we can respond to it in a thoughtful manner rather than react to it. To fight it off or run away from it-to avoid the pain.


If we stay we allow the pain to be our teacher, our strong emotions tell us something isn't right but we can't fix it if our only option is to escape or avoid it. And we have so many ways to do that, addictions numb us and distract us. The urge for revenge or to one-up another, or to be right ruins relationships. This is the fight in "fight or flight", just do harm to that which causes us pain.

I think that is why Jesus talks about turning the other cheek. In a sense he is saying stay with your pain, and stay connected with the one who causes you pain ( not to allow abuse to contunue, please don't hear me advocate for that) but every human relationship is eventually going to cause you pain of some sort. Dont strike back, don't run away. Stay. Listen, overlook an offense, forgive, heal. We can't do it if we don't stay with the pain.


I often tell my clients that overwhelming emotions, ( experienced as intolerable pain) are like waves in an ocean, they build and recede if you don't fight them. A riptide can be swam out of if you stay in it and swim along with it until it ends rather than fight against it. The more we can learn to stay in our pain and let it teach us, the more likely it is to recede and the waves diminish and a calmness will often take the place where waves of pain used to crash.

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