Have you ever felt embarrassed by your own reactions to a hurtful experience? Something happens to you that assaults your heart, claws at your dignity, threatens your well-being and you respond with bitter outrage. Now, not only are you reeling from the blistering incident, you stand exposed and ashamed at your outburst of emotion, humiliated that you can’t manage your pain with greater finesse.
A conversation recently took me back to an event in my life when I did not manage my own pain with tremendous poise and grace. I let others see the hurt, have a glimpse of the wound, and in so doing, paid a pretty price. Many who witnessed my outcry found my lament to be too much. Even some whom I would have called friends could not handle my strong, caustic emotions and turned away in disgust.
It’s hard to remember that time in my life and the loneliness and rejection I felt. But if I’m honest, I, too, am uncomfortable when pain comes out ugly in another person. I’m particularly sensitive to cynicism. When I detect bitter rage and raw blame in someone, I feel anxious and wary. My instinct is to treat their condition as if it was contagious and run away. Why is that?
This morning, I read Psalm 73 and a portion of it got me thinking, and led me down this path of contemplation. Here is how the psalmist described God’s reaction to pain when it comes out ugly:
“Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
And I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
Leading me to a glorious destiny.”
Psalm 73:21-23, NLT
As I read these words, I identified with feeling “all torn up inside,” “foolish and ignorant” and so distraught I must have “seemed like a senseless animal.” In that state of unkempt pain, I also experienced God’s gracious, abiding presence. Yes, even when pain came out ugly, I was aware that I still belonged to God. He stayed with me, holding my hand and guiding me toward a better place.
In this Psalm, God shows us how to companion one another during times when we are all torn up inside. My anxiety and instincts tell me to run. But God’s example insists that I stay put, giving my friend a place to belong in his or her pain, a hand to hold, and an ear who will listen.