As I pulled up to my house just off of the Georgia Tech campus, I was excited to get home and see my roommates. I had been in Florida for the previous two days celebrating my Grandmother’s 82nd birthday. It was a good time.
My friend Phil Clarke and I had gotten into a habit of often walking around the campus at night and simply “processing” the day. This night walk would take on the added interest of my “exotic travels” to Central Florida.
Then it happened. Life changed in an instant.
I will never forget the sight as I walked up. My house was packed with students. The scene was quiet of sound, but loaded in emotion. It was a scene of grief and pain unlike anything I had ever seen.
Friends and acquaintances from around the campus had converged upon our house to verify the rumors and to simply be with others who loved Philip Clarke.
As for me, my countenance went from carefree joy to sudden pain—sharp, biting, dark pain.
I turned to run out of the house. Don’t know why this was my first response, but it was. Maybe if I just ran, this would all cease being true, a cosmic do-over of sorts.
I didn’t run but went back into my house. I walked around and hugged everyone there. We all wept. We were all 18-25 years old, and almost all of us were experiencing the trauma of death for the first time.
I ended up sitting on my bed weeping, with my other best friends surrounding me. We wept, we prayed, we regrouped. At that very moment, it was as if the Lord whispered in my ear, “Don’t run. Lean into this pain and I will carry you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
From that point on—though it had only been a few minutes since hearing this awful news of the death of my best friend—I knew what I had to do.
Lean into the pain, with Jesus and the others around me. In this “leaning,” Christ would provide healing.
Instead of running, several of Phil’s other closest friends and I piled into my car and drove to Phil’s parents’ home. Though we didn’t even know them well at the time, we felt this was a good first step in “leaning into the pain” of missing our dear brother. We literally sang hymns as we drove up I-85 to the Clarkes’, and as tears rolled down our cheeks.
Two days later, “leaning into the pain” took the form of a tape player (yes, it was the mid-90s, so a tape player) in a back room of our church. My other two best friends and I gathered there to simply talk about memories of Phil and tape them. We knew that our memories would never be as sharp, our thoughts as cogent about Phil as they were then.
We talked, laughed and memorialized our dear friend and brother, all the while fighting off the tears.
Of all the many “life lessons” I learned at 24 from the death of a best friend, this might be the most important.
Don’t run from, but rather lean into pain and suffering.
In “leaning into pain,” we find healing. When we run from pain and suffering, it only gets worse and only gets a stronger grasp upon our hearts and souls. This inevitably brings bitterness and anger. By moving into—and not away from—areas of pain, we find the inverse: growth as a person and purpose in life.
In “leaning into pain,” we find the joy in community that Christ Jesus has designed us for. Dealing with our pain and suffering and not running from it inevitably brings us to a point of depending upon others for our care and healing. You can never “get over” pain on your own. You must have others.
Christ created us to be interdependent with the other members of the body of Christ. Though this is often awkward and uncomfortable, this is also wonderful beyond words. We are a part of a “family” within the community of faith. By “leaning into pain,” we are allowing others to help us. In this we learn about Christ, and we grow as individuals. We also become more available to others when they are in times of need.
In “leaning into pain,” we find the comfort and beauty of our Savior and friend, Christ Jesus. Our faith was begun through the ultimate act of “leaning into pain” by Jesus Himself. Because of the cross of Christ, we can be confident that He has conquered all death, pain and suffering. He has not eradicated it in this life, but He has defeated it. Only in Christ does pain not only become tolerable, but ALSO profitable.
We often do anything and everything to avoid pain. I know it is still my nature to have a knee-jerk response to run from pain, rather than leaning into it. We are told by counselors and psychologists the world over that avoidance of pain is the genesis of addictions of all sorts, from alcohol, to sex, to eating disorders.
However, one of the wonderful legacies of experience—the pain of losing my best friend—is this life-altering lesson …
Don’t run from, but rather lean into pain.
We do not lean into pain alone, though. We do so through the confidence and strength of Christ Jesus, and through the comfort of others around us … but lean we must.
Lord Jesus, please help me to grow in “leaning into pain” all the more. Though you have taught me this time and time again, I still want to run. Please grant me your grace to grow in “leaning into pain” with You and with others by my side.