A good steward of your pain

From “Telling Stories in the Dark: Finding healing and hope in sharing our sadness, grief, trauma, and pain” by Jeffrey Munroe

I struggled to feel any emotions in the aftermath of Gretchen’s stroke. I simply felt numb. In some ways, this is a reflection of the way men are socialized in our culture. Although there is evidence this is changing in some circles, I was told big boys don’t cry. If you got hurt in a game of football or baseball, you got up and carried on. Woe to the crybaby who let out tears. And if your heart was broken, you had permission to feel anger, but not much else.

When my friend told me to pull myself together that night in the hospital waiting room, he was following a script well-known to men of my generation. It’s about being stoic, having a stiff upper lip, and projecting strength.  As Buechner says, that’s a way to survive the immediate trauma, but not a way to live and not a way to grow.

Buechner’s essay invited me to something different. I felt him asking what sort of steward I was going to be of the horrible pain of Gretchen’s stroke. I had tried burying it and knew that didn’t work. Could I do something redemptive with it instead?

When I read that essay of Buechner, I cried for the first time since my friend in the emergency room told me to pull myself together. I couldn’t have stopped crying if I’d wanted to, and I didn’t want to. I just let it come. I remember wondering: How did Frederick Buechner, a writer and pastor who lived in Vermont, know so much about me?

Over the years, I have found something redemptive in simply sharing both this story and Buechner’s call to be a good steward of pain. Every time I tell this story, I feel great resonance with those listening. People often respond by telling me their stories, often stories about being a secondary sufferer with a sick spouse or child. The stories are heartbreaking, yet I don’t feel depressed when I hear them – I feel hopeful because I sense healing is happening in the act of sharing the story.