Turning Pain into Purpose
Daddy’s car wasn’t usually in the driveway when I got home from school.
Running into the house, excited to see what had brought him home so early that day, I skidded to a stop in the entry hall. He and my mom were in the front formal living room. Not in the family room where we ate and talked and played table games and read books together. Instead, they sat stiff and still in the room where my brother and I practiced our piano lessons and people gathered for dressy holiday events. Looking back, it was obvious something was off. It didn’t register at the time, but in hindsight I remember them not even moving. Not hugging us as we came in the door. Not asking how our day was or what we learned in school. Not telling me to open the door again and try shutting it without slamming it this time. No. They were just sitting straight backed and quiet until Daddy said, You two come sit down. Your mother and I have something to tell you.
If I had taken the time to absorb how different things were that day, I might have been able to brace myself. But in the moment, I didn’t see it. Always ready, willing, and looking for the next fun thing, I quickly sat down to hear what I was hoping would be a wonderful surprise. And a surprise it was. I was right about that part.
Without any introduction, preparation, or warning to hang on to our hearts because our whole world was about to change, my dad simply said, Your mother and I are getting a divorce. I know he must have said more, but all I remember was my ears ringing very loudly with this high-pitched noise that I finally realized, after my brother told me to shut up, was me. I was screaming Nooooooooooooooo! and it felt like something inside me was trying to get out and if I just screamed long enough it would all end. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t stop crying. And I realized my dad was still talking. Something about how nothing would change before Christmas, then my brother and I would move to a city nearby with my mother over the holidays so she could get her college degree. Blah, blah, blah.
What was happening? I had no recollection of my parents even fighting. We were happy! This was our home! Together! This was my life. All I had ever known. Was my dad seriously asking if we wanted to go out for pizza to make us all feel better? Yes! He was! Ok. I know the rules. Children don’t ask questions. Children are to be seen and not heard. Children are to say Yes ma’am and Yes sir. So I know what to do. I say Yes sir. And thank you. And I move on.
Years later, married and three children later, I hear that same high-pitched noise that takes me back to when I was ten years old, as I realize that noise is again me, screaming Noooooooooo!!! as I realize my three beautiful children are about to go through the same ripping and tearing of their little souls that I did. And I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to stop it without it killing me. So, I scream. Until I realize the voice is me. Then I do what I know to do. I move on. But in the moving I determine to not make the same mistake that was made with me. I determine to be open and honest with my children about anything they ask and even things they don’t. And in doing so, I do the very thing I determined I wouldn’t. I hurt them with too much information, just as I was hurt with not enough. And I realize pain is pain.
It comes in many forms, this pain. There is no avoiding it no matter how hard we try. But we CAN turn pain into purpose. We can heal. We can forgive. We can choose to learn from it more than we lean into it. We can choose triumph instead of tragedy. And those aren’t easy choices. Those aren’t flippant words. I understand the battle, and it is very hard. Because pain always calls us back into it and it takes a deliberate intention to move away. Yet in doing so, in making that determination to heal, we can impact not only our lives, but the lives of others, from a place of purpose and power instead of pain. Healing is hard. Pain is worse.
I think of a story my friend told me about when her sister was dying of cancer. Janet, my friend, had stayed awake all night long in the hospital, helping her sister deal with the extreme pain she couldn’t escape. The next morning, having had no sleep for way over 24 hours, Janet absent-mindedly mentioned she had a headache. Immediately she wanted to shove the words back in her mouth, thinking how insensitive it was to speak of a headache during what her sister was going through. Janet apologized, telling her sister she recognized the headache was nothing compared to the pain she was going through. But her sister, being a very wise and loving soul, looked at Janet and said, “Sissy, pain is pain. Go take care of yours, so you can help me take care of mine.”
And isn’t that the best thing we can do for one another? Isn’t that the best way of moving on? Instead of trying to help others from our place of pain, let’s just take care of our pain. Let’s forgive. Let’s learn. Let’s move on in the best of ways, so that we can help others in their pain. Even when it is pain that we caused.
Brenda Cox Harkins is a speaker, author, and coach who believes in impossible possibilities,
in the power of God’s love, in west Texas sunsets, good coffee, and in dreaming… again and again.
She enjoys connecting with family and friends – both old and new.
Brenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and would love to hear from you.