Around the Campfire: On the Other Side of Pain

by Shaina Bolin


I tuck my kids into bed and slip quietly out of their room. I light several candles around my bedroom and turn off my overhead light. I lay on my bed, as still as possible; not thinking, not praying, not believing, and certainly not hoping. I curl my legs up to my chest and wrap my arms around them. I hold this position for as long as I can and wait. I’m waiting; for tears or sleep, neither of which will come as soon as I want them to.  I change positions, release my muscles, and lie on my back, stare at the ceiling, and watch the candlelight dance back and forth. Finally, the tears fill my eyes, run down my cheeks, and then, they won’t stop. My body literally convulses with grief, jagged sobs vibrate through my bones and muscles, escaping from my lips, until I finally fall asleep.

Almost every night was like this for me two years ago, when I was going through a divorce, and again many times over the past several months; this is what happens to me when I feel intense emotional pain, raw and vulnerable. Pain is a part of the human condition, no one escapes it for very long, and it sucks. But having said that, pain is also a great catalyst for change and transformation, God uses pain to benefit us, and if we allow it, pain can bring some of the best things we’ll ever experience.

To me, emotional pain feels like being in labor with a baby that’s never coming, wave after wave of hot flashes, contractions, and tension with no relief, and the feeling that I’m stuck here forever, I’m never going to make it, it’s never going to change. However, at the same time, it feels like being squeezed in a tight space, like a birth canal, with little chance of ever coming out. It’s tight, dark, liminal, and there’s hardly any wiggle room.

I think we all can relate to this on some level; many of us have grieved the death of some of our dreams, or experienced adverse circumstances, or made choices that led to awful consequences, or something just didn’t work out at all the way we expected. I think we’ve all been in this place at some point.

Pain is like giving birth and being born at the same time.

Where is God in this? Who am I in this? What’s going to happen next? Do I believe God trustworthy enough to see me through it, whatever it is? What is on the other side of pain? And, if I’m being completely honest, when the fuck will this be over?

I do believe that pain is productive; it’s a great catalyst for change, however hard it is to see it in the middle of the pain. A few months ago, Leah and I had a movie night where we watched Eat, Pray, Love, and I heard this quote: “Ruin is the road to transformation.” This is interesting, as obviously, ruin doesn’t happen joyfully; it isn’t some happy occasion that comes out of these really great things happening. Ruin usually comes through destruction and suffering and…yeah, pain. Most of the time, it’s through the destruction of something old that something new can begin. Whatever new something which comes from the destruction replaces whatever was there before and almost always comes as a labor…of love and of pain. It’s painful when something falls apart, and sometimes even more painful to wait for something new to come together.

It’s also nothing new that God’s specialty seems to be pain, suffering, and ruin. There’s tons of scriptural evidence of ruin as an indicator of God’s movement, or of God’s love, in Old Testament and new. For some reason, this method of God’s is tried and true, and also completely unpredictable and turbulent. In fact, God’s movement of me towards transformation through destruction and pain often results in major disruption in my life, which can contribute to the pain or even feel like the source of it. It’s in the middle of severe pain that I forget that God is still present and is somehow working to bring good things out of it. It’s a mystery, this painful destruction making way for a beautiful new creation. Sometimes we have to wait and toil a long time before we even see it.

My friend sent me these good words during this most recent season of pain: “God told me to tell you to not avoid your pain. Instead, feel it, breathe into it, let it flow through your body and out your hands, and then, channel it into your art.” God obviously plans to use the pain I’ve experienced, and will probably continue to experience, because, let’s face it, life means pain; it means feeling it, living in it, embracing it, using it, allowing it to change me, translating it into something tangible. The most beautiful, honest things can come out of the ugliest places.

Transformation is the destruction of something old and the introducing of something new, and it’s said that everything is in the process of becoming new. I think it’s through this process of becoming new that causes a lot of emotional pain; hopefully, eventually we can believe that there is joy on the other side. Its joy that’s coming back into my life right now, as God mends my heart and moves me toward what’s next. But there’s absolutely no denying that pain and joy coexist in this weird little tangled up paradox, constantly being labored over and birthed simultaneously, and we can’t have one without the other.

Both are also so intricately tied to love; it’s hard to see a loving God through the darkness of pain and liminal space. In my own experience, I can’t deny that the pain I’ve felt has ultimately ushered me closer to him in a deeper way, but that didn’t happen without feeling like my relationship with God was being ripped apart first.

There’s no neat and tidy way to wrap this up, but because of the feeling I have that I’m entering a new season of renewal, I want to somehow learn how to appreciate the pain for what it is, because of what it leads me to: from destruction to pain to transformation and eventually, a joyful rebirth. It is a hard way to come by such an amazing bursting out of the darkness into beautiful light, freedom, and open spaces, and it is hard to remember and accept that this will cycle back around continually throughout my life, but I just can’t see any other way. If I want the joyful birth, I have to labor in pain.

IMAG0249-1 Shaina Bolin is an art student at UT and is a single mother to two children. Shaina is learning what it means to hunt for God amidst writing papers, attending classes, checking elementary school homework, and changing diapers.

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