“Until the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of change, we tend not to change,” Dr. Richard Dobbins. I was introduced to the principle of allowing experiences of pain to become an opportunity for positive change in my life as an adult. It made sense that a certain amount of pain comes when we plan for change. An example is how my stomach initially feels when I start a diet. The feelings in the early stage of dieting are painful. I experience my “pain” as needed to lose weight and establish new eating habits. This simple, yet proven, illustration underscores how pain can be an indicator that positive change is occurring. My struggle was in understanding how the pain of a crisis could facilitate change and growth.
I’ve had the privilege of serving 30 years as pastor for three successive congregations and in healthcare chaplaincy for the past five years. During that time, I looked to the biblical text to inform me and others. I found it much easier to find “answers” in my own experiences of loss and more difficult to offer the same to others; especially when life events didn’t make sense. You know what I mean? “Why do bad things happen to good people,” or “Why this, why now?” I felt I had to come up with “the answer” or some “divine” explanation that helped others wrap their heads around the pain.
And then … Doc Dobbins lifted up this “nice little quip” in a way that caused me to reflect differently. I replayed again past painful events and relationships where I experienced pain, loss and grief. Only this time, I invested more time in processing my feelings associated with each experience. My “aha” moment came when I stopped trying to wrap my head around the painful events and began to wrap my heart around the feelings of sadness, fear and anger. I became less troubled with “not knowing” why my parents separated for so many years, why my niece died at an early age, why my friends died as the result of murder/suicide, etc. I became more comforted in knowing that God’s comforting love had always been present as family and friends journeyed with me.
Questions still surface when life doesn’t make sense, and I come alongside someone who is experiencing loss of health or a loved one. However, the need to find an answer for them has been replaced with a desire to meet them where they are in life. I want to create a safe space that allows them to express their own feelings. For I know that their pain, no matter how acute or deep, can potentially become an invitation to consider changes that promote healing toward growth in their relationship to self, others and God.
“May the God of compassion and all comfort, comfort you in all your troubles, so that you can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort you have previously received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Rev. Doug Ford is the staff chaplain at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital in Delaware.