This is Part 2 of a post about Meaning and Pain. Part 1 can be found here.
So I didn’t leave that last post wrapped tightly in a bow, and to be honest I don’t really know if this one will be either even as I write it. It is my firm conviction that we don’t leave enough space for things like silence, pain or unanswered questions.
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not
afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same
fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the
yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or
concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be
about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.
CS Lewis, A Grief Observed
There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me
tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life…
It’s my observation that we, perhaps both intentionally and unintentionally, tend to speed right past suffering. We often say things like “This reminds me of the time when I also went through…” or “Everything happens for a reason.” This may all be well and true, but it seems to me to serve often as a way to say “Don’t let this get to you. This is bad, but it happens to everyone, and either way it’ll all work out in the end. You’ll see. Now can we stop talking about this?“
And this brings me back to the meaning question. It seems to me that there’s an inseparable link between meaning and suffering.
In my view, one of the areas of silence we should more often allow ourselves, and others, to sit in a little more is the experience of pain and suffering, and the fact that those things are real, and omnipresent, and meaningful. I mean by “silence” the solemn contemplation of this reality: we are all in pain. We all experience that fear-like-grief that accompanies this life. The meaning and suffering dimensions are, as Peterson suggested, completely intertwined. We cannot deny that the suffering is meaningful, and if it’s meaningful it needs to be meaningfully engaged.
So what to do, if we can’t race past it toward a distraction? If we can’t ignore it? We all have questions in times like these. We want to know the “why”. We want to demand an answer, or find who (perhaps even God Himself) is to be blamed for this catastrophe. What do you do when you experience that kind of pain?
I’ll apply these questions next to myself. I am in pain. I miss the child I never knew. This being I love and would gladly give my life for, even though he or she was scant the size of a blueberry. It is impossible for me to think this pain isn’t meaningful. And I don’t want to ignore it. If the world should be Shalom, if children should live to grow up before their parents eyes, and it’s not, we SHOULD be suffering. Because that isn’t the world we live in. And it means something.
Continued in Part 3, final thoughts.