The title of the blog post is obviously a twist on the very excellent book, When Helping Hurts, which is a very good read for anyone who has ever lifted a pretentious finger without knowing how pretentious fingers could be.
But in my own little mind, if there is a point at which helping others has diminishing, if not adverse, returns, than hurting, has potentially increasing marginal gain.
Simply put, experiencing hurt helps your credibility and capacity to help. Pain, suffering, tears…namely, the things we all seek to avoid on a daily, hourly, minutely basis, they are the only merits that lead to badges of courage. It’s strange to me that many churches “know” this, but rarely read from those texts deeply or begin to worship from this reality. I am always struck by a sense of absurdity when worship bands begin to rock out to “Blessed be Your Name” by Matt Redman. That’s a serious song that’s somehow never set to an appropriate arrangement featuring solo cello and background wailing. It is even more culturally evident that it is the rare hymn that goes to the depth of a Negro spiritual. I have yet to hear a credible rendition of “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” by a white crooner. Suffering helps cut through the craft of music writing and gets right to the heart of where worship begins and often leads, pain.
The fact of the matter is there is no spiritual growth without wilderness, be it Abraham, Moses, David, or Jesus himself. Further, the Scriptures we tend to gravitate towards (Ps. 139 – in short,” I’m special and He knew me before I was born!”; and Jer. 29:11 — “He has a plan for me to prosper!”) are still dotted lines around difficult texts that continually dredge up life’s harsh realities. That’s right, we avoid reading tough scriptures or we tend to read those texts that display suffering as a product of personal sin, which understandably is helpful to the young, but rarely do we dialogue about suffering that is the product of nothing that we know of. Birth defects, miscarriages, random deaths, natural disasters, shootings, wars, accidents, disease…and that’s just a short list of realities we could get anyone to talk about at any bus stop or dentist’s waiting room. Just about everyone knows someone who has dealt with cancer or miscarriage, at least adult. And this is where hurting is a great source of compatibility for us. Pain is one of the lowest common denominators for us all.
I remember serving food one day in the projects of Nashville, TN, and when the men had all been served, I sat and ate with them as a young college student among calloused, hardened men. And one large Black man named, “Big Willie” took a couple of looks at me as I tried to greet everyone and ask them how their week was, said to me, “You come here and serve us food, but this is nothing to you. You leave here and go back to school; you have a nice life; you got it made. But let me tell you something: You don’t need to talk. You need to listen. Just listen if you don’t know nothing.”
And I took great offense to Big Willie’s remarks back then in my twenties, but now in my mid-thirties, I wish I had the courage to be that frank with many young people I see now. I have seen a little bit of pain now. I have my share of regrets. Sat in a few hospital rooms for many hours and spent a few more at funerals and wakes. I have limped down a stairway before and pushed myself in a wheelchair once or twice since that Saturday morning when Big Willie was honest with me. Hurt has helped me listen more. Pain has made my words softer. When I read that Jesus was “a man of sorrows” in Isaiah 53, I see more clearly how he knew deeply the desperation and the anxiety his followers faced. I’m not trying to glorify pain here or somehow idolize suffering, nor am I trying to say that those that suffer are always better off for having been in that state, but with regards to mission and outreach, reconciliation and forgiveness, I think hurting helps. It helps us be fully human. I’m not saying that it makes us divine, but often I feel that many good-intentioned Christians aren’t fully human, they’re detached, they’re already looking for their angel wings and “third spaces”, and twittering about this and buying tickets to that; but rarely is the church fully present in the human experience. We are so unlike our savior, and therefore we lack the sense of incarnation that Jesus fully displayed. I wonder sometimes that we find it hard to project the presence of God because we avoid the presence of humanity.