Suffering and the Idolatry of Pain

Throughout my 20’s, I spent a great deal of time and energy thinking about suffering. I immersed myself in the language of Lamentations 3 and filled multiple journals with excruciating detail about my tortured emotional life. It was part of my regular “discipline” of “pouring my heart out to God.” St. John of the Cross may have experienced the dark night of the soul, but I seemed to be experiencing some sort of perpetual night of the soul.

I say that, but the truth is, my life was not devoid of joy and goodness. Neither was I short on things for which to be thankful. I simply had a highly developed practice of meditating about all things painful and grievous that I had experienced over the years, from childhood all the way up to that point in my life. Those memories and emotions haunted me. They were disruptive – much like feral cats would be if they decided to get into a fight outside your window at midnight as you were trying to fall sleep… every night… for years.

Then one day, as I was sitting at home alone in my bedroom, came that ever so softly but piercingly spoken truth: “You have made your pain an idol.” In that brief moment, all those prayers of lament that I had prayed, all those journal pages that I had started with “Dear God” followed by “I feel,” became like ashes. The Holy Spirit held up a mirror to my heart, and I was able to see the image that all my introspection had failed to reflect. There I stood, wearing my pain proudly like an object of adornment, yet becoming twisted and bent under its weight – weight I was never meant to carry. My prayers of lament were now distilled to a single thought and translated back to me. They sounded something like this: “God, you may have my soul, but I must have my pain, for it’s what makes me who I am.” I suddenly realized that I had believed a lie; and the embrace of that lie had induced me to worship my pain as a false god. And out of that worship had flowed all manner of vanity and self-absorption. I had endured hardships, to be sure; but the Lord revealed that my problem had less to do with what I had suffered than the relationship that I had developed with my suffering. I’m happy to say that God in his mercy called me out of that relationship of slavery and called me to enter into deeper relationship with Him instead. As a result, my 30’s have seen a great deal more liberty and far less time in Lamentations 3. To God be the glory!

I wrote the following poem as a reminder of the twisted, vain, and subhuman state of being to which any kind of idolatry reduces us. I celebrate the fact that God is faithful to deliver us steadily until Christ returns. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thess. 5:23,24)

Building a Shrine

You are building your own mausoleum –
Dark and beautiful, like a museum;
Gold and silver, precious jewels
Grandly displayed in the vestibule.

A holy temple full of candles,
With secret rooms that are filled with scandal –
They’re your favorite hiding place,
Where you recount your falls from grace.

You are building a shrine to the gods of despair;
It’s a deeply and madly romantic affair.
You play the part of the dying tragedian,
As the world laments your untimely end.

You’re the star in your own passion play;
Imagination takes you away.
Fanciful images fill your mind;
And cloud your senses until you are blind.

A cast of players the world has never seen,
At attention, ready to play the scene.
You close your eyes, your body dies,
And everyone wonders if you will arise.

You are building a shrine to the gods of despair;
It’s a deeply and madly romantic affair.
You play the part of the dying tragedian,
As the world laments your untimely end.

Copyright 2008 by Judy Dominick. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Formation

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6 replies

  1. Hi Judy, This devo really spoke to me. I love your writing–so eloquent and beautiful. I done wish I could write more better.

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  3. Beautiful words. I think that especially being ‘Reformed’ we often find ourselves wallowing, when we should be rejoicing. Thanks for that reminder.

  4. Wu-ster! Good reflection, deep and convicting. Hope all is well with you and hubby!Pastor Ed

  5. Judy, I know I’ve been guilty of the same thing – writing pages of lamentations and confessions in my own journal that amount to nothing more than spiritualized self-condemnation. Praise to Jesus that He came to deliver us from that. In Him there is forgiveness, cleansing and freedom from shame. lord, teach us to walk in victory!

  6. This may be uplicate of something I just sent off – if so, those thoughts are off in cyberspace somewhere. You know my techno-savy!I have loved all of your musings, and am finally getting the courage to comment. I believe that the tendency to flaggelate ourselves, the Lamentations thing, is common to all believers. We are all so guilty, and we so don’t deserve the gift of Grace. A scripture that has really encouraged and comforted me is Psalm 16:5-6 (NIV)“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure. The boundry lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely, I have a delightful inheritance.” He is good, and He is faithful!Lovingly, Nancy

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