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How Your Pain Becomes the Path to Living Again

How Your Pain Becomes the Path to Living Again

by Jacob Armstrong

As a pastor I have seen lots of differences in people culturally, financially, and politically. I have witnessed Democrats who live and thrive in red states. I have seen people who typically like traditional worship enjoying a church that has a rocking band. I have seen fans of the University of Alabama happily living in Tennessee—seen it with my own two eyes! But all the people I have had the pleasure to be around, from Nicaragua to Nashville, have one thing that is familiar to them, one shared experience. What we all share is an ache. Everybody I have ever talked to has this same ache. It is a longing. And I feel it too.

Everyone aches to be whole. We ache to be healed. We ache to be restored. Most of the time, though, we wouldn’t put it in those words. We just know we are broken because our child is addicted. We ache because the depression of our youth is now the depression of our golden years. We are stretched to the point of breaking because our career ambitions position us to commit to a pace we can’t sustain. Miscarriage, divorce, loneliness. In all of it, we ache. We ache for some way to walk through this life and not give up or give in.

That’s often where the breaking happens. Sometimes it seems that our only option is a good old-fashioned, on-the-floor meltdown. And I’m not against these. We see some pretty good ones in the Bible that lead to really amazing lives. Nehemiah hit the ground in anguish for days before he rose to rebuild a wall, a city, and a people. Esther almost broke as she faced her wailing uncle, then resisted safe silence and finally spoke up. Saul felt the dust of the Damascus road on his skin before he stood with new eyes to see. We might call those breakdowns, but there was something else happening there too. Something much different. Instead of breaking down, it is more like breaking open.

We will all face breaking points, and many times we will splinter and crack. We all know broken hearts and broken relationships intimately. With Jesus, these are the opportunities not to fall and stay down but to fall and rise differently. To rise with power, with hope, with purpose. We get to rise, open to a new way of living!

To do that, though, we can’t avoid the breaking. We can’t stuff it down deep under a coping mechanism. We can’t outrun it by moving fast enough. We can’t numb it with another show, another drink, or another cynical comment. We can’t avoid it by manufacturing drama to gain others’ attention. Nope. There is only one way to thrive in life, and that is not by shutting down; it’s by remaining open. Instead of breaking down, breaking open.

We break open to Jesus. We break open toward others instead of seeking the tempting allure of isolation. We break open and live desperate, vulnerable lives that invite others to do the same.

In my new book, Breaking Open, I look at seven ways people commonly seek to avoid breaking—seven ways we avoid the pain and just try to push through. I seek to show that these seven ways are stealing life from us. Then, in each chapter, I walk through a progression of seven Jesus-ways that move us from merely breaking down to breaking open. And the Jesus-ways get us to the good stuff—what he called “more and better life” (John 10:10 msg).

I invite you to use Breaking Open as a way to help see your people experience hope, healing, and wholeness. But, as pastors we know our people will start this journey tired. Real tired. Just too tired. Exhaustion makes it hard to focus. It blurs our eyes, fogs our minds, and keeps us from taking something on, especially something as monumental as our entire lives changing. That’s why I begin the book with an invitation to do three things:

  1. Let go of the idea that you are going to save yourself.
  2. Commit to keep going.
  3. Believe that in a moment everything can change for you. (This is also called hope.)
As I write this I also know it is likely you are tired. So from one tired pastor to another, I invite you to a different option than the breakdown that may feel inevitable. It still involves breaking, but the breaking has a different purpose—a different endgame. This breaking leads to an openness that, amazingly, brings more life. It actually brings real life. Against all odds, it fills us up, leads us closer to God, and moves us forward. It’s called breaking open. It starts with an ache. But the ache leads to the path of living again.