pain & hope
I did my first leg workout last week, in something like seven years, and for the two days since then, I’ve been obsessed by my pain. When I sit still – to apply for jobs or to watch Netflix and knit or to eat dinner – I can focus my attention on something else. Any time I move, though – to stand or sit, to walk, to crouch down or reach up – my mind is mostly noticing my quads and hamstrings.
I know this won’t last forever, but it will probably be similar when I do arms next week. And maybe for a few weeks – maybe forever, as I keep increasing the weights and building my muscles. And on the one hand, it’s kind of boring to be constantly saying “oh, my legs” and to be mentally preoccupied with such a small part of the world. But on the other hand, my brain is pretty insistent that I notice pain that affects me personally.
This experience feels somewhat important in a time of emotional pain and upheaval. A time of Brexit and Trump, neither affecting me in the day-to-day, but both affecting my friends and family. A time of surprise to those of us who thought progress was inevitable, and reminding us that we, even in our privilege and plenty, are not yet a Zion people. And I don’t know how much you know of Australian politics, but we are not treating asylum seekers – some of the very least of our brothers and sisters – as kindly as we might wish to be treated.
These pains are not my own, except as much as I put them upon myself, and I am ashamed to say that it is much easier to forget the children on Nauru than it is to forget my muscles that are sore because I decided to work hard, at a place I pay to attend, with experts to guide me.
The pain I took upon me brought me to look up the website for the refugee council of Australia, but it was difficult to find relevant and timely information about how to volunteer, so I gave up with a half-written email and 20 minutes of searching websites they link to, and set the pain back down to take care of dinner.
And I’ll come back to it, because I’m reminded of this pain every time I open Twitter or check the news or attend church or read the scriptures. And I’ll be patient with myself and my selfishness. But I know, today, noticing this disconnect, that I need to repent. I need to practice picking up that pain. I need to take a little longer between putting it back down.
I know I cannot carry all the pain of the world, so I won’t try that. Just as praying for everything in the world leads only to frustration, powerlessness and failure. But I’ll choose one or two specific pains to focus on. I feel drawn to those who are fleeing persecution and unrest, especially those who are trying to give a better life to their children. Those who are suffering the pain that comes from being born into a situation they didn’t choose and can’t change, and in trying to flee have found only further horrors.
This time of year, as we head into Advent, the looking forward to Christmas, also brings me back to the need for Christmas, and the first pain in the world. To Eve being alive to a fear and embarrassment that she didn’t know could exist, alive to thorns and thistles and sorrow that she can’t change. And Eve was promised that her seed, the fruit of her womb, would crush the serpent’s head. How she must have looked forward, in that pain, to the coming of the one who would bring peace and healing. It wasn’t her firstborn, and there is still pain in the world. But Mary, another Eve, looked forward to the coming of the one she knew would put down the mighty from their seats, and exalt them of low degree. He would fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away.
Especially as we come into the Advent season, we need to sit with the low and hungry, we need to take their pain upon us and anticipate with them the coming of our Saviour, the healer of us all. Advent celebrated on the four Sundays before Christmas, with themes of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. The 27th of November is this year’s First Advent. Traditionally, it’s the Sunday we contemplate hope. Without Eve’s choice, bringing pain upon us, we would have nothing to overcome, nothing to learn, no need for hope. But we do need hope. We need to look forward to Christ. Both the hope that comes as we remember at Christmas that Christ can heal us now, and the hope of Christ’s second coming. The hope that we can build a Zion for Him to come back to. The hope that we can take on each other’s pains so much that, through His grace, we can learn how to heal some ourselves.
If you haven’t celebrated Advent before, I recommend it highly. Even if you’re not making a wreath and lighting candles, I invite you to think of Eve, mother of us all, and Mary, our mother through Christ, how their children are our brothers and sisters, and to make their pain our own. Even if, like me, you’re learning how to hold on to it for long enough to make a difference.