Growing Through Holy Hurt

how to handle all the suffering in the world

We live in a tumultuous time. Stories of heartache and disaster fill our newsfeeds and an edge of hostility runs through everything from politics to popular culture. It would be easy for us to become despondent, to wish to disengage completely from the noise and hurt. How tempting it would be to shut it all out and focus only on ministering to our own small tribe, happily shielded from all the suffering.

Leaning Into Others’ Suffering

When you open your home and heart to others, intentionally vulnerable to the needs and struggles of those around you, you expose yourself to hurt. And who wants that? Our own trials and the pressing needs of those in our immediate circles seem heavy enough. Wouldn’t our time be better spent nurturing what is good and beautiful in our lives and blocking out as much conflict and pain as possible?

The hard truth is that our hearts are moulded and our love is magnified when we engage in others’ grief. Holy hurt grows us. Pain taken on for others expands our capacity for love, enlivening us, just as tough bread dough softens through kneading, becoming elastic and rising more fully.

Simply put: we hurt for others so that we may better love them.

We hurt for others so that we may better love them. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

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Carrying Hurt with Others

It’s argued that darkness helps give value to light by virtue of opposition. That we can better appreciate our joys when they stand in contrast to our hurts. That may be true. But more than just throw goodness into relief, suffering intensifies goodness and gives it nuance.

Henri Nouwen wrote:

The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper.

When we carry hurt for others, our love is given greater dimension, just as the heavy blacks and blues of van Gogh’s The Starry Night heighten and animate the bright pinwheels of yellow starlight.

We are not asked to seek out grief, or even to embrace it when we do encounter it. But we are called to walk with it, to be reconciled with it as a consequence of a broken world. Fortunately, while tragedy and loss are not positives themselves, when suffered prayerfully and united with the passion of Christ, they can be conduits for good, opportunities for mercy, healing, connection, and redemption.

The Balance in Our Own Hearts

Though our responsibility to our sisters and brothers is clear, we have to be intentional about approaching their distress in a healthy way. There is a phenomenon common in helping professions called compassion fatigue. The term refers to the burnout we experience when we overextend ourselves emotionally.

When we care deeply for others and truly help to shoulder their burdens, we run the risk of exhausting ourselves. So it is necessary to find a balance of nurturing our own needs while not quarantining ourselves from the heavy hurts of those around us. Thankfully, compassion is not a zero sum game. Our capacity for caring is greater than we know.

Recognizing our duty to help carry our neighbors’ grief is one thing. But understanding how to begin can be a challenge, especially when we are confronted with an onrush of such weighty, urgent needs.

Undoubtedly, the surest way to banish the helplessness and hopelessness you feel in the face of pain and loss is to actively participate in resolving the hurt. The heaviest tragedies lose their power to overwhelm us when we make a move, however slight, in answering them.

The heaviest tragedies lose their power to overwhelm us when we make a move, however slight, in answering them. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

How to Grow Through Holy Hurt

Our varied gifts and abilities allow us to help and heal in any number of ways. But the most powerful starting point is prayer. For tragedies beyond your reach, prayer might be the only recourse you have, and for needs in your community and the lives of your concrete neighbors, prayer will give you guidance in how best to move forward.

You might write a note of encouragement for a mother who is struggling, lend your time to an adult literacy program, or spend your day off visiting nursing home residents who don’t often get visitors. You might simply be more intentional about making your loved ones feel heard and understood. Whatever the circumstance, your specific passions and charisms make you uniquely suited to help others in a vital, tangible way.

Always Hope

Do not be overwhelmed by the division, cruelty, and misunderstandings you see in the media, politics, and everyday life. Do not be disheartened to the point of disengaging. Enter into the pain. Be uncomfortable, ache and grieve, but enter in.

Yes, you will hurt, but suffering is a transforming ache—the agony of an athlete who is strengthened through the strain. You will be better for having taken it on. You will be softer and kinder and your connections to others will be more enduring and true.

“Caring for the world will put countless arrows through your heart, but you will feel every pulse of blood through your veins. Fully alive.” —Audrey Assad

Have you been discouraged lately by all the suffering? How have you leaned into holy hurt?

Growing Through Holy Hurt #BISblog // Click To Tweet

Mo Hurley is a social worker, baker, and picture book maker from South Dakota. She loves writing, documentaries about storm chasers, and The Flash.

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