“Are you sure you don’t want a ride to the camp? You can just skip the rest of the kilometres for the day, rest up, stay off your blisters for awhile, and start fresh tomorrow.”
We heard that often along the 100 km. walk. Well-meaning organizers, volunteers, and medics wanted to help us avoid some of the pain we were experiencing. They wanted to give us short-cuts, assuring us there was no shame in missing a few kilometres.
Every offer only set our resolve deeper, though. It even made us reluctant to visit the medics when the blisters got particularly ugly. We weren’t there to do 87 km – we were there to do 100.
Yes, it was painful. Yes, there were toes on our feet that were hardly recognizable as toes anymore. Yes, there were moments when there didn’t seem to be a single muscle in our body that was exempt from the overwhelming ache.
But we were there to complete the journey. We were there to test the limits of our endurance. We were there to be present in every painful step.
We live in a culture that likes shortcuts, especially when it comes to pain. We try to rush through grief, thinking that we’ll be better off if we can just put a bandaid on it and get back to real life. We over-medicate, thinking a dulling of the pain will help us feel “normal”. We short-circuit the birthing process (both literal and figurative), with unnecessary c-sections and inductions. We over-consume, thinking that shopping therapy will dull the ache of loneliness or heartbreak. We clamour over quick fixes and fill our lives with cheap throw-away solutions to our problems.
We prefer ten easy steps to one thousand painful ones.
But it’s the thousand painful steps that will change us. It takes those thousand painful steps for us to grow into what we’re meant to be at the end of the journey.
In ten easy steps, we can build little more than a house of cards, not the rich, beautiful temple we are meant to become. A strong wind blows away the house of cards, but the temple withstands the storm.
A fascinating thing happened at the end of our three day journey. We three women, walking together every step of the way, always within about 100 steps of each other, all began to menstruate before the end of the day. In just three days, our cycles aligned (though I wasn’t expecting mine for another week and a half and I’m not sure about the others). Interestingly enough, the next day was the full moon.
I’ve lived with enough roommates, daughters, and sisters to know that it is not unusual for women living in community to end up with cycles that are in sync. I’ve never seen it happen in such a short time, though. Three days of sharing an intense, painful experience, and our bodies were in tune with each other.
Extrapolate that story forward, and you have three women, living in community, whose bodies are preparing to go through the pain and glory of childbirth together. It’s a beautiful, poignant story. Expose three women’s bodies to shared pain and they find a way to support each other that goes much deeper than words.
Women, we are amazing vessels. We birth children and carry each other’s pain. Every month, we shed blood – our little painful sacrifice for the beauty we bear within us.
As an added element to this story, it was pain and childbirth that brought these three women together in the first place. Cath’s loss of Juggernaut led her to a place where walking helped her live through the pain. Christina’s deep compassion for her story and sharing of her pain made her want to support Cath on the journey. My own story of the loss of Matthew bonded me to Cath and made me want to be with her for the journey as well. It was pain that bonded us, pain that we journeyed through together, and pain that caused our bodies to align themselves with each other so that we could most fully support each other.
Our bodies carry wisdom that our minds know nothing about.
Our bodies understand the value of pain.
Without the pain, we don’t have the beauty. Without the blood, we don’t have the birth. Without the sacrifice, we don’t have the growth. Without the sharing of agony, we don’t have community.
We can’t shortcut through the pain. It’s not serving any of us. Shortcutting through our own pain makes us careless of other people’s pain. It makes us careless of the pain we cause Mother Earth.
Mark Nepo talks about pain as the tool that carves the holes in our bodies to make us the instruments through which breath blows and beautiful music is made. When we are present in the pain – when we don’t try to take shortcuts through it – our holes are seasoned and polished and the music comes out sweet and rich.
Imagine an orchestra playing on half-finished instruments, with holes that had never been polished and strings that had never been pulled tight. The music would be dull, lifeless, and out of tune.
Pain begets beauty.
Pain shines the edges of the holes through which God breathes.
The next step may be painful, but it must be taken nonetheless.
I only hope that your next painful step will be taken in community and that you will be supported in your pain.
And when the pain subsides and you can stand up straight again, let God breath through you and make your music beautiful.
“In stories and in life, pain is our friend. It’s an unwelcome friend, but a friend nonetheless. The good news is if we make friends with our pain, it won’t stay long and it will leave us with a gift. But if we avoid pain, it will chase us down until we finally accept the gift it has to offer.” – Donald Miller
Note: Full disclosure – I did take a few painkillers along the way, so I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of martyr. AND I do not want to stand in judgement of anyone who accepted a ride – we each must choose our own thresholds for pain and our own values and reasons for completing a particular journey. There is no shame in being supported through the roughest parts of your journey.
Another note: Cath has created a beautiful offering to help you walk through your pain, called Remembering for Good. She is letting her pain be turned into music.