We think the absence of pain is the goal, but God is known for allowing acute pain in service of deeper healing. Like a broken bone that must be reset, the parts of us that have learned to get by without an ever-present awareness of God’s compassionate and knowing care need to be broken afresh in order for us to be made whole again.
It was my first day back at work, and as I sat at my desk I tried my best to get back into the mode of responding to emails and updating myself on what had happened over the past two weeks. I was determined to have some semblance of a normal day. The prior three months had been filled with so much torture and grief. It began with the news that I was pregnant and that my hidden thyroid problems might cause complications. It ended with the news that they could no longer hear our baby’s heartbeat, and then, a miscarriage. I had spent time mourning, reversing the anticipation of carrying this little one to term and becoming parents to a newborn. I had been deeply moved by the outpouring of compassion, prayer, and food from our loved ones and community, but it felt like it was time to put this behind me and return to the life I knew prior to all of this.
I felt myself falling back into my work groove when I glanced up and saw David.1 He had just returned from being out of town, and now he was standing silently in my doorway, staring at me, his eyes filled with compassion and knowing.
He said quietly, “I just heard the news…”
And something within me broke. Tears began to flow down my face as he came and sat down beside me. He shared that he had some idea of the unspeakable pain I was experiencing because he and his wife had miscarried many years ago. He asked how I was doing, and I jokingly said, “I was doing fine until you stopped by.”
I’ve seen this same emotional pattern unfold repeatedly. You go through a horrific experience or loss; it is overwhelming and all-consuming, but then it passes. Things get better and it appears as if the whole thing is behind you, and you even begin to stabilize and recover some sense of normality. And then, it hits you out of the blue. Something taps into the deep well of sorrow that resides deep inside of you—sorrow you didn’t even know was there—and you are flooded with the pain. I call it “the breaking.”
I’ve watched it happen in front of my eyes many times in my counseling. I meet with someone for the first time and as soon as I ask what brought them to counseling, they immediately begin to cry. They have only just met me, but the combination of my empathy, my question, and the opportunity for them to face what they have experienced is enough to break the dam. They almost always apologize for their tears, and I inform them that I will someday have a plaque on my wall that says, “Crying is expected; apologies aren’t welcome.”
Why do these “breakings” come and what is going on? This is what I have gathered.