Reflecting on Pain
Updated: Nov 8
A visual prayer of lament.
There is great joy and deep heartache in being human. Some seasons hold painful challenges, disconnection, and loss, and other seasons are filled with new birth, connection, and good work. Often we experience both realities simultaneously. And God's presence is with us, sometimes felt and sometimes not.
Sunday afternoon I sat in my office to create with God, a visual conversation of sorts... this is one way I pray. I set out my tools: a Sharpie, pastels, markers, acrylic paint, water, and paintbrushes. I had been mulling a few things: the story of the bleeding woman reaching for Jesus' cloak with her broken body and wounded heart (Mark 5), Jesus' tears at Lazarus' tomb in the presence of the grief and pain of his loved ones (John 11), the pain of being human and the pain in my own story.
I do not usually step back from the immediacy of every-day life and ask myself "What hurts?" I usually ask questions like "What is right? What is true? What is needed here? Where is God in this? Did I do something wrong? Can I fix this? or How can I trust God in this?"
What questions do you ask when you collide with the pain of life?
My prayer on Sunday was an exploration of the process of acknowledging and naming the things that hurt, things that hurt me. This prayer feels awkward and uncomfortable. I am still praying it. How do you pause to acknowledge or even to feel the pain, wounds, or losses of your life? We experience disease, diminishment, and brokenness of human bodies, relational betrayal, abuse, or rejection, self harm of addictions of all kinds, our sin and turning away from God, mental health challenges, loss and grief, and the list goes on.
I began my prayer with two images: God and me. I drew a lion to portray Jesus, the Lion of Judah, and I drew a woman. At first I was going to collage the images, but I decided to use mixed media for a more raw and expressive style that suited my emotional reflection.
First I roughly sketched the figures: a bold but peaceful lion and a kneeling, reaching woman. Then I started to layer dark, weighty shades and some soft, blue tones reflecting hardship, grief, and suffering. And I painted a swath of intense red and orange across the center of the page... the red spoke of wounding and the orange spoke of intensity. It connected Jesus and the woman.
As I thought of the bleeding woman from Mark 5 and how wounds often bleed, I placed a pool of red beneath the woman. But not all wounds can be seen, and there are no visible wounds on the figure. When you consider your own story, when has your pain been known and when has it been hidden? God sees me... and God sees you. He sees the wounds that are clearly visible, the wounds that only I know have hurt me, and he sees the wounds I may not have even acknowledged yet. This provides comfort for my heart.
I considered Jesus' suffering and his humanity. So I placed bright red marks along the brow of the lion as I envisioned the crown of thorns that pierced him when he was crucified on our behalf. I was reminded of the Scripture that states "by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53.) And I contemplated Jesus' divinity, painting swatches of purple, royal shades, intermingling with strokes of gold and amber through his mane.
As I reflected on my own grief and lament I painted a pattern of pale blue droplets from the woman to Jesus. The pattern fell all around her.
But when I paused to look at the whole, the droplets seemed to fall from the lion to the kneeling woman rather than the reverse. And I wondered if my openness to receiving from God, to reaching for God, and feeling his heart toward me... enables me to more fully understand my own pain and grief. I believe we need God to interpret us ~ to us. So often our hearts do not fully understand all that happens within the soul as we experience a fallen world. But we do have a high priest who is able to understand our weakness (Hebrews 2:17 4:14-16.) Some of that weakness is our sin, some is the result of being sinned against, and some is feeling the effects of a fallen and broken world. The figure is monochromatic, practically colorless, perhaps because pain can mask the fullness of beauty for a time.
I used my Sharpie to bring some detail and form to the Lion. His expression seemed compassionate to me. He did not seem worried or distressed, but rather present and strong. His tears pooled on the ground reaching for her.
I placed the drawing on my table so I could sit with God and pay attention. Despite intense colors and heavy darkness, the image did not evoke sadness in me. I felt as though the image held my lament and honored it. And it honored how God receives my expression of my pain. We know God invites and honors lament as we read the Psalms and the poetic books of Scripture. And we hear God's longing, lament, and heart for his people in those books as well.
The drawing needed something more... it needed more of the Lion of Judah. So I sketched in the great lion's paw reaching out. The Lion of Judah held the whole of the woman's lament, the whole of her story.
In Mark 5, the woman who had bled for 12 years and had suffered much had heard of Jesus. She believed that if she just touched his cloak she would be healed. And despite the chaos and the crowds she managed to reach him and touch his cloak... and she was healed immediately. But she sought to remain hidden.
Jesus felt the release of his power as the woman was healed, and he sought her out. I suspect her heart needed healing as well as her body. As he looks for her and asks for her, she reluctantly comes forward... and she tells him the whole truth. What does it mean to tell the whole truth? Sometimes it may mean naming our pain: no denial, no minimizing, just letting it be what it is. I added her tears falling... to be enveloped by the pool that surrounded her. The tears of God and the woman's tears mingle together.
And finally, I extended the wound and the blue above her... it provided a covering of sorts... that limited the reach of the darkness. Our lament is a healing and hopeful act.
Pain is a part of being human. If you know someone in a season of hardship, grief, or weariness. Consider the gift of a soul care basket. You could purchase one from me or make your own.