Mountain bike culture has its own lingo. No surprise there. The word for a serious wipe-out is called a “biff.” A few years ago on the Cadillac Trail in Tom Brown Park, I biffed. Come to think of it, that’s kind of a puny word for a major event. I biffed bad enough to crack a vertebrae and spend a couple months in a back brace. The type of brace that would protect me on a quail hunt with Dick Cheney. These days, it only hurts when I’m awake.
Beyond stages of grief, people respond to suffering with either self-pity or gratitude. Self-pity may be a symptom of unresolved anger, ultimately, with God. An assumption calcifies within the heart that God does not care (or more irrationally, does not care enough to exist). Self-pity says defensively, “I have a right to be angry!”
Okay. But I suppose you also have a right to drink arsenic, which builds up in your system and eventually kills you. An ongoing pity-party is a choice to die slowly, poisoning faith, hope, and eventually, the ability to love.
On the other hand, gratitude can reverse such affects. It can plant just the smallest seed of trust. When that seed of new life begins to grow out of the soil of some past hurt, it turns your past into compost. Let’s look into it.
Stewarding you past
When people complain about a smaller hurt, sometimes they receive this advice: “You need thicker skin.” In some instances that may be true. We do need to put certain worries on a budget. Reflect, learn, and then move on. But some insights are accessible only through sensitivity. So “thicker skin” is not always the right prescription.
Indeed, some wisdom comes only at after life has rubbed us raw. I’m thinking for instance of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, a moving reflection on loss.
Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.
A wound deeply felt and put into service for others has the power of self-sacrificial love. It touches others’ lives with their own unique fingerprint of vulnerability.
Time does not automatically heal all wounds. We need to take some responsibility for them. But once you’ve experienced a seed of trust growing from the soil of the past, you will be motivated to keep tilling. The goal is not to justify difficulty but learning not to waste it. If only to benefit someone else. In time, that choice to steward your past for the sake of others can heal you too. Past can be compost.
One first step in turning your past into compost might be to forgive God. I’m using the word “forgive” with tongue in cheek. The idea of forgiving God invites an honest confession first: “I don’t like how you’re running the universe.” That’s one generous way the psalms model a return to faith, even an angry one.
In some instances, forgiving God may be similar to going easy on your dentist for drilling a diseased tooth. Other pains may be different, however. They call us to a place of mystery, allowing God to know something we don’t. The theme repeats itself from Genesis to Revelation– what was intended for harm, God can use for good. Or, as Sam Gangee wonders aloud to Gandalf at the end of The Lord of the Rings, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
Hurt and the church
Bitterness with God often gets directed at the church or at authority in general. A Pew study shows institutional trust to be declining even further. It’s cheap to blame imperfect institutions and costly to get involved making them better.
Nevertheless, resentment often leads people to over-generalize about institutions. We certainly don’t allow hospitals, careless about infection, to discredit all hospitals. That’s distortion. Yet it’s common for popular culture to spray an entire institution with contempt when a celebrity leader falls.
Any group of people, like a church, that declares their ideals will fall short of them, publicly. But such communities also persevere in relationship despite their human nature. Undefined standards are easily met. Like the boy who shot an arrow at a barn, drew a target where it stuck, and declared, “Bullseye!”
Hurt can root out self-concern
Long ago, after a season of crisis, I realized I simply did not have the tools to build a life on my own with any enduring meaning. As a result, identity began to form not through individual performance or in customization but in belonging. Belonging to my own past, to the people in my life and on my path, and to God.
However, today in the West we grant increasing latitude to curate a self. It does not seem to be working. Anxiety continues to accelerate. Perhaps rather than viewing the self as a blank slate, we need to return to the constraints of belonging. But it takes humility to belong. It takes humility to see one’s life tied into a greater good, especially if it costs.
The Gospel tells the story of one man suffering to benefit others. In times of our own suffering, the severe mercy of God invites us to look for this same kind of exchange. If only for the sake of someone else. And when consequences simply are built into our own bad choices, we must remember, “the wounds of a friend are faithful.” Even in life’s biffs, past can be compost.
We also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5).