Friday, 29 June 2018

Picking up the pieces

Photo by burak kostak from Pexels

Commutes to and from town have a tendency of serving up some rather interesting spectacles. As a result, I’ve seen my fair share of drama over the years. Guys who blatantly lie about their whereabouts and make dishonest politicians look like amateurs. There was the chap who made puppy noises that seriously had me convinced there was a puppy on board. Not forgetting suave, slick-talking salesmen who sell ‘digital’ pens, pesticides, textbooks or stickers. There is never a dull moment abode a 46 commute that’s for sure.

There was this one time, something not out of the ordinary happened.  I was in a KBS en route to Town, when I saw a male passenger shuffling his feet to get up to leave, nothing out of the ordinary there. Except while he was leaving, he wasn’t mindful of his feet, so as he quitted his seat, a female passenger close to him bore the full brunt of his foot treading on hers. She grimaced in pain and flung an arm at the man in retaliation. The man apologized but the damage had been done. In a huff, the lady stormed off from that row of seats, taking her place at the backbench, where she recoiled to the corner, very far from harm’s reach.

Ordinary as it may sound, this event mirrors our response to emotional pain. Well, that’s for a lot of us. When people hurt us we strike back. Whether in an explosive outburst laden with expletives or harsh words with disparaging remarks and counter arguments. Whether in fists or some kind of pushing and shoving. Whether in passive-aggressive speech. Whether by withdrawing from them. Whether through silent treatment. We all react to pain in some way.

Like the lady, some of us choose the option of recoiling. Withdrawing. Putting a considerable distance between ourselves and the person that hurt us. This takes on many different forms. Physically it may mean an individual departing, leaving an organization, leaving a party of friends, leaving a church with the intention of getting away. Subsequently, that individual maintains that distance and isn't keen on being involved in any future relations.

Virtually, lefting WhatsApp group has been the order of the day when it comes to withdrawing. At  times, it is without explanation, other times it is with drama. For some lefting has not been a matter of if but when.  A lot of Cyber bulling has seen a number quit social media all together to get away from the vitriol being dished to them online. 

We practice avoidance and get as far away as possible from the people who hurt us. Sometimes this is in the form of sequestering ourselves from the world, by erecting an impregnable wall of cynicism around our hearts. A wall of cynicism whose building blocks are acts against us which become the most defining experiences in our lives. We decidedly resolve, “Never again. I won’t be taken advantage of. I won’t be so gullible. I won’t be made a fool of. I won’t waste my tears over someone.” 

All around, you can identify someone nursing a broken heart. You’ll see pent up rage that flares up at the slightest provocation, whether directly or indirectly. There is also a deep-rooted suspicion in some that manifests itself in being overly cautious of other people’s behaviour or motives. Not to forget is a defeatist resignation as people wallow in passivity. Losing the will to fight, to take initiative, to persevere, they instead opt to play it safe, to avoid uncomfortable confrontation or hardship. They lassez-faire their way through life so to speak.

Then there are those who play victim. Always blaming someone or circumstances for their state of being. Others will blatantly deny they are hurt. They will play poser. A sort of it fake it till you make it approach to hurt except that faking that you are not hurt can only go so far. They may act cool, downplay the hurt but eventually the truth of their pain comes to light.

Hard as people may try to conceal it, those nursing wounded hearts are not that hard to spot. And I’m not just talking about wounded hearts from being spurned,  from unrequited love,  from being cheated on or from having to become a single parent but so many wounded hurts from different causes as well. Death taking away a parent, a child, an unborn child, a sibling, friend or relative. An unfair dismissal from work. A divorce either as one being divorced or as a child in the thick of it. A business going bust or a long period without work. A sudden paralyzing diagnosis, being on the receiving end of rejection by people you yearn to be friends with, an absent dad or mum growing up, self-inflicted hurt because of poor personal decisions. Those are just a couple to name but a few, it’s impossible to run the whole gamut of heart-break. I can say, from each, and so many more, the pain is very real. All the more unfortunate is when people try to offset their lasting pain through what I would call  'short-termist methods'.

Call it Google, call it our different temperaments, backgrounds, we have our different quick-fixes to pain. Some go to the bottle, some find it through a night out in the club. Some go for the intoxicating stuff,  a pill, a snuff, a smoke or a needle. They are those who take to lust, to finding relief through ogling, through fantasizing, through porn, through masturbation, through philandering, through one-night stands or regular random sex. Some find it through cynicism and perennial fault-finding, resulting in ranting and railing on their social media platforms.

Most would fault the above coping mechanisms. Most would term them inappropriate. Most of us, wouldn’t resort to them if we weren’t in pain. Our pain somehow justifies our choices to pursue those destructive coping mechanisms. Our pain somehow gives us a sense of entitlement to engage in these questionable coping mechanisms, a sort of license to indulge in them. I for one personally know how emotional pain inflicted on me has not made me think twice about turning to lust provide relief. Ogling to counter-balance pain seems completely justifiable at the time. That’s the same for people tend to get wasted, who tend  to have eventful nights out, who sleep with a prostitute or side chick or guy, they will most probably  point to some debilitating pain that entitles them to search behaviour.

Then there are the not so negative coping mechanisms. The ways of dealing with heart-break that are permissible. Some that are understandable when you consider the grand scheme of things. Some take to the gym, to cross-fit, to yoga, to  running, to football, rugby, basketball and other sports to take their mind off things. Some to dance, to Zumba. Some resort to cooking, baking, some to writing, to poetry, to singing.  Some use travel, exploration, sight-seeing to get palliative care. Some take to charity, to visiting the sick, the orphaned, those in prison, to philanthropy, to participating in mentorship programs, church ministry. All very appropriate to deal with pain.

They are those who are compelled to withdraw from toxic people, they isolate themselves, retreating to a corner where they can find their space. Some do the opposite, and meet new people, meet new people some more, making the most of every opportunity to socialize.

Others use work to counterbalance their pain. They may have skeletons in their closet, they may flounder in their personal life, or with their family but at work, they excel. They immerse themselves in work, they are super-productive. They meet the targets, exceed them, they are praised for it.They find their identity in their career to nullify the shortcomings in other facets of their life. 

I agree that the above are purgative in their own different way. They remove the negative feelings, they purge the bitterness, anger, hatred, vengeance, shame, dishonour, defilement. Furthermore, they provide an outlet to channel the negative energy constructively. However, it should also be said, that even socially acceptable methods of dealing with heartbreak have their drawbacks. 

Even those ways we think are appropriate in dealing with pain have their flaws and limitations. In themselves alone, they are incomplete. Sure, they redirect your focus from the pain. Sure, they numb it but they don’t all-out cure it. They don’t really redress the injustices and pain permanently. You only have to prod and poke someone to open up about their pain and watch as the fireworks explode. People will go in the defensive or offensive. They will shoot you hostile stares that will make you think twice about inquiring any further. They will make you feel you are too invasive. Then you will realize the heart-break is still very much alive despite the positive coping mechanisms.

God is deemed a miracle worker. The one major miracle I believe he provides is healing. Healing from a broken past with it's regrettable past actions. Healing from "I should have..", "I wish I had", "Why was I so stupid?" Healing from traumatic experiences. Healing from injustices, from cyber bullying, back-stabbing,  body-shaming. Despite all that has happened to us, however damning, however unjust, however painful, God can heal us. Not just content with mending our broken hearts, he gives us new ones because it is only with these hearts can we live a life honoring him as he desires us to. Jehovah Rapha can do a job on your broken heart if you allow him to. His lasting healing is based on his terms and here’s how I think that plays out.

As much as he heals, we also have to play our part in the healing process. Another commute taught me something else. One day, after having dismounted from a 46 in Hurlingham, the rain was beating ever so heavily that I had to seek shelter under a bus stop. A couple of us hurdled under that shelter waiting for the rain to subside. While we were waiting, a young lady received a call. Since we were hurdled up together, her phone conversation wasn’t exactly private. We were 'obliged' to listen in on her conversation. Someone on the other end of the line was talking about a guy whom I think the lady fell out with. The lady very adamantly said she wasn’t going to apologize to that guy. She plainly stated that she doesn’t apologize to men.

Apologizing, Admitting, Agreeing that you’re wrong is one of the first things you will have to do. Whether it’s apologizing to God. Whether it’s apologizing to another a man or  to another woman, you will have to do it. Sometimes we will be forced to swallow our pride and apologize to those whom others will reckon we shouldn't apologize to. We will have to adopt a posture of humility and admit that we were wrong for doing what we did, for saying what we said, for not doing or not saying what we should have done or said. It may mean apologizing to a son or daughter. It may mean apologizing to a subordinate worker or an intern. It may mean apologizing to the person you mentor. It may mean apologizing to the person you preach to from the pulpit. It may mean apologizing to a child, to the house help, to your ex, to the guy/chick you knew you were just stringing along, whom you led on to believe there was a relationship in the brewing. It may mean ditching pride and your machismo and going to a counsellor to bare it all out. We must take responsibility for our mistakes and confess them. Whether we said hurtful things. Whether we did hurtful things. Whether we think or are not quite sure that what we did or said wasn’t that hurtful. Whether we were hurtful by being silent. We must own up.

Failure to which,  both the good and bad coping mechanisms of pain will only numb it. They will always be insufficient. We will try to pacify ourselves by solely focusing on what the other person did. We might solicit empathy from others about what happened to us and depict ourselves us unfortunate victims and portray the other person or people as the only culpable party. We might kid ourselves that we didn’t hurt the other person or that we’ve been hurt  far worse and didn’t suffer much. We might try avoid the people we offended.  We’ll always live with a guilt complex as a result. The nagging feeling that we should apologize will never go away irrespective of whether people buy our side of the story. Irrespective of our philanthropy, our piety, our ministry,our academic papers, our plaudits at work, guilt will simmer beneath. We have to do the hard bit of owning up, agreeing that we messed up and sincerely apologizing. Jesus came that we live in abundance not living in semi-abundance with a guilt complex. Own up.

We must also own up about our own ignorance. We must own up about our own naivety and high expectations  because they are the chief reason we get heart-break. As much as we play victim, we too are culpable. We too made serious errors in judgment. We too make very costly assumptions that are the reason we get hurt. As much as we focus on the other person, we ought to share in the  blame because of our naivety, our ignorance, our skewed perception, our misunderstanding. It’s not necessarily about the other person not meeting our standards, it is that our standards were too high in the first place.

We have to admit that our expectations were off. We were blinded by ignorance, naivety and we set ourselves up for hurt. We have to confess that as well. We also have to accept that we live in a flawed world with self-centered individuals so conflict is inevitable. There has never been a time this world was perfect and that one person inflicting pain on you has disturbed the ‘natural order’. This world was always messed up. A world of cheating, selfish-individualism, Money Over Everything culture(MOE), misogynists, bigots, sexual predators, liars, conmen has always been there. You were born into it.

People hurting you in some of the above ways is inevitable. It’s not some cosmic event that happens once in a lifetime. It will happen. The world has never been perfect. It’s always been flawed, it’s just that you’ve been spared from seeing its nasty side till now. The world will not be better if your pain was dealt with, it needs to be redeemed from top to bottom. Only God can redeem it fully and he started by sending Jesus to die for it on the cross to begin the process.

Jesus set the tone and we should follow. He engaged with a broken world cognizant of it’s brokenness and not constantly bemoaning it’s brokenness. If anyone suffered heartbreak, it was him. As he lay on the cross, people hurling their insults, at him, he told God to forgive them for they didn’t know what they were doing. He extended grace to the broken and since we have his spirit, and he extended grace to us, so should we do the same to others. After apologizing and confessing, that’s what we do.

Forgive others. Forgive yourself. I know it’s easier said than done. Again remember, Jesus forgave you for far, far, far much worse. God forgave others for more. You are thus able to forgive others and yourself by his enabling power, love and grace. Some think that by forgiving they will be agreeing that what was done was right to them. No it wasn’t. In cases like this you shouldn’t be apologizing but be apologized to. Often, that apology will not come. Forgiveness is about letting go of the right to that apology. It’s  also about refusing to let past actions domineer you life. Refusing to let go of a painful incident in your life will stifle you from becoming the very best, from fulfilling your potential. Jesus didn’t left flagrant opposition or insults, rule his life. He didn’t let it stymie him or his ministry. He let go and as a result his influence still lives to today. We are called to do the same, let go.

Remember also God is just. Super-just. No wrong deed goes unpunished under his watch. None. Justice may not come when you expect it to or as you expect it to, nonetheless, it will come. The chilling thing for me is that when I think that my punishment of my offenders is just, God’s punishment is probably far far greater. It is God’s to avenge, not mine. He saw me when I was hurt. He saw you when you were hurt. In his own way, he will administer justice because he not only saw the act but the intricate sub plots behind it, the motives. He is thus able to judge much more better. Mine is to let go. He will do it in his own time.

How often do you imagine that if pain was removed, life would be good. If that person that hurt you only said sorry, if they only agreed that they did wrong, if they only did something to compensate for the past actions, you would be ok. Hate to burst your bubble but it might not happen soon, it might never will. Does that mean your life is that bit less fulfilling? Does that mean you are consigned to a life of unhappiness because you didn’t get an apology or justice? Jesus proved that in spite of the hurt, in spite of the lack of apologies, your God given mission still goes on. You still can leave a mark on this world, a sizeable one, irrespective of whether people apologize to you or not. Irrespective of whether pain or heartbreak is inevitable, you can still live a lasting legacy.

Jesus gave us a spirit of power, of love, and of self-control, chiefly to overcome heart-break. He showed that heartbreak doesn’t define you. You don’t have to be cynical and bitter to your grave. More importantly, he showed he could heal people like Peter, Paul, Mary whose past life was nothing to write home about. He can do the same to you if you surrender, if you agree that you’re messed up, agree to him and to who else you need to agree to. Then let go and ask him to help you let go for all the days of your life.

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