Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Stewardship of Pain/Listening to Your Life

"The Stewardship of Pain" by Frederic Buechner

...I thought a lot about what the stewardship of pain means; the ways in which we deal with pain. Beside being a steward of it, there are alternatives. The most tempting is to forget it, to hide it, to cover it over, to pretend it never happened, because it is too hard to deal with. It is too unsettling to remember...

Stewardship of pain... I think it means, before anything else, to keep in touch with your pain, to keep in touch with the sad times, with the hard times of your past for many reasons. I think it is often those times when we were most alive, when we were somehow closest to being most vitally human beings.

Keep in touch with it because it is at those moments of pain where you are most open to the pain of other people -- most open to your own deep places. Keep in touch with those sad times because it is then that you are most aware of your own powerlessness, crushed in a way by what is happening to you, but also most aware of God's power to pull you through it, to be with you in it. Keeping in touch with your pain, I think, means also to be true to who in your depths you have it in you to be -- depths of pain and also in a way depths of joy, because they both come from the same place.

When I think of stewardship of pain, I think also of that strange, dark, harsh parable Jesus tells of the talents, which doesn't turn out at all the way you would expect. You remember, the master gives the three servants talents. He gives one five talents, another, two, and another, one talent. Off they go. He comes back on the day of reckoning and asks the five-talent man what he has done with his money and he says, "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more." The Master says, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master." The two-talent man has made another two.

The one-talent man, you remember, says, "I was afraid and I went and hid my talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours." The Master says, "Wicked and slothful servant! Take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

To begin with the negative part of it first, it seems to me that the one-talent man represents what I said before, somebody who buried the richest treasure he had, not just pain, but the most alive part of himself, buried it in the ground. He was never able to become who he might have been. I think the outer darkness the Master casts him into is not to be thought of so much as a punishment, as it is to be thought of as the inevitable consequence of what it means to bury your life. If you bury your life, you don't live your life. You don't meet other people who are alive. You are alone; you are in the dark.

"From him who hath not, it will taken." Those hard words. That if the life is buried, if the pain is somehow covered over and forgotten, instead of growing, you shrink. You become less; you become diminished.

The positive side of it, of course, is the other ones, the ones who came back with more than they started out with. As the parable says, they traded with their talents. They traded with their lives -- a wonderful phrase. We were made to be life traders, because I have what you need, which is me, and you have what you need, which is you. That is the joy into which the Master invites his servants.

Pain can become a treasure if we treasure it to the point where it can become compassion and healing, not just for ourselves, but also for other people. If you want to see that sort of thing in operation, the treasuring of pain, the using of pain to the healing of yourself and others, someday attend an open meeting of AA or any of the related groups. That is exactly what those people are doing, sharing their hurts, their experiences and their joys.

And remember the cross. It seems to me that the cross of Christ in a way speaks somewhat like this same word, saying that out of that greatest pain endured in love and faithfulness, comes the greatest beauty and our greatest hope.

...It is marvelously strange that one person's pain becomes a means of healing for another."
And more from Buechner:

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

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