Home > Faith, Relationships > WANTED: New Black Bag

WANTED: New Black Bag

Complaining has been a problem for me recently. Or rather I’ve had no problem complaining, it’s the toxic fallout of stewing, criticizing, looking for worst-case scenarios and playing out arguments in my head that has plagued me. I discovered this quote from Richard Rohr today that resonates with me:

“I will offer you a simple litmus test to determine whether a person has healthy or unhealthy religion. What do they do with their pain—even their daily little disappointments? Do they transform their pain or do they transmit it?

We all have pain—it’s the human situation, we all carry it in a big black bag behind us and it gets heavier as we get older: by betrayals, rejections, disappointments, and wounds that are inflicted along the way. If we do not find some way to transform our pain, I can tell you with 100% certitude we will transmit it to those around us.

At the end of life, and probably early in life, too, the question is, “What do I do with this disappointment, with this absurdity, with this sadness?”

Pain_Logo_messenger_bagI have known people who carry their big black bag on their chest and open it up for you as often as speak to you. And I’ve known other folks whose bag somehow seems to have a perpetual hole in the bottom.

I was talking with a friend the other day about responding to pain. And to another friend about adjusting our attitude. And with both the consensus was this is no small matter. It is one thing to practice the habits that essentially amount to squeezing my eyes tight and whistling along with Monty Python (come on, you know it),

Always look on the bright side of life…

It’s quite another thing to make a fundamental worldview shift and learn to deal with the vast quantities of pain and disappointment I encounter in a transformative way rather than deny it and/or transmit it. On the other hand, as I admitted in yet another recent conversation (interesting how most of my processing these days is through conversation), I used to be the sort of person who who contributed more positively and constructively to my world; lately I seem to be trending toward the negative. So on these terms at least my worldview has already shifted at least once.

In an article on suffering, a Harvard Law Professor writes about his own suffering ,

“Cancer and chronic pain remain ugly things, but the enterprise of living with them is not an ugly thing.”

This strikes me as close to reality. The “enterprise of living” with pain, disappointment and tragedy is not by definition a bad thing, though the pain itself is notably convincing to the contrary. Is misery as much a self-chosen mantle as joy and hopefulness then? Is a profound worldview change as simple as a deliberate series of choices? I figure if I got myself here somehow, then somehow there is a way out.

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