Deciding What to Carry

Today, I want to begin by sharing a version of a story I found years ago on the Internet that spoke to me. After I share the story, I’ll tell you why I brought it up.
“Two monks were making a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of a great Saint. During the course of their journey, they came to a river where they met a beautiful young woman — an apparently worldly creature, dressed in expensive finery and with her hair done up in the latest fashion. She was afraid of the current and afraid of ruining her lovely clothing, so asked the brothers if they might carry her across the river.

The younger and more exacting of the brothers was offended at the very idea and turned away with an attitude of disgust. The older brother didn’t hesitate, and quickly picked the woman up on his shoulders, carried her across the river, and set her down on the other side. She thanked him and went on her way, and the brother waded back through the waters.

The monks resumed their walk, the older one in perfect equanimity and enjoying the beautiful countryside, while the younger one grew more and more brooding and distracted, so much so that he could keep his silence no longer and suddenly burst out, “Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but carrying her on your shoulders!”

The older monk looked at the younger with a loving, pitiful smile and said, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are still carrying her.”

In a question posted yesterday, Yvette ask a straight forward question about why it is so hard to forgive. While I will briefly touch on the question of forgiveness, I want to broaden my response a bit because I think it raises a larger question about what we do with the pain we acquire during our journey through life.

In the decade I spent working in human services – and in the 14 years I’ve spent serving as a pastor – I’ve been amazed at how applicable the story of the two monks is when it comes to how individuals deal with the pain they acquire.

There are some individuals who manage their pain like the younger monk. They hold on to the pain and carry it for many miles through life. In some cases, that pain becomes a part of the individual’s identity and the individual loses sight of who he or she is apart from the pain. There are others who deal with their pain like the older monk; they carry their pain for a spell on their journey and then find ways of releasing the pain’s hold over their life. Please, please, please note that I said “release the pain’s hold over their life”. In using those words, I’m NOT saying the pain goes away completely. Instead, I’m saying the pain is no longer that thing which controls the individual’s life.

I sometimes hesitate sharing the story of the two monks because some people hear it and assume I’m blaming the individual who has experienced pain. “Aren’t you using the story to say that an individual should simply ‘get over it and move on’?”

I’m not.

Believe me, my heart bleeds for those who find themselves stuck carrying the pain (or lack of forgiveness toward themselves or others) for years. There is nothing so terrible as feeling you are trapped in pain and helpless to do anything about it!

I share the story of the two monks for another reason. I want the individual who helplessly trapped in his or her pain to realize they have another choice about how they can manage the pain.

Here’s where one of the foundational lessons of the Christian faith has proven so helpful to me over the years. You see when I read Jesus story, there are a couple lessons that jump out at me. The first is that suffering is a basic part of the human experience. All of – including Jesus – go through gut wrenches experiences that threaten to tear us apart and end our life as we know it.

What Jesus’ story showed me is that suffering is never the end of the story. There is another transformational level to which we can go – if only we let go of the expression of pain/suffering/death and open ourselves to the possibility of new life on the other side of the pain.

Some hear the phrase “new life” and think only in other-worldly terms. I think of it in ways that are much broader. For me, “new life” means achieving levels of peace that would otherwise seem unobtainable – especially when we are in the throes of the pain and suffering.

How do we get there?

For me, there is a big spiritual aspect to that answer. I believe God’s grace has a way of working healing and inspiring hope that is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. God’s grace works through many instruments – including amazing counselors and therapists who can help individuals do some of the important work they need to do in order to set down the pain and suffering they have been carrying so long.

That is my initial thought. What about you? What do you think can help an individual work through his or her pain in order to get to a place of healing and forgiveness?

And please – keep the questions coming!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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3 Responses to Deciding What to Carry

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    This poem by Marge Piercy has done more to help me forgive than anything. I like that it lets me turn my weaknesses to good purpose, especially the last two lines.

    How divine is forgiving?

    It’s a nice concept
    but what’s under the sculptured draperies?
    We forgive when we don’t really care
    because what was done to us brought unexpected
    harvest, as I always try to explain
    to the peach trees as I prune them hard,
    to the cats when I shove pills against
    the Gothic vaults of their mouths.

    We forgive those who betrayed us
    years later because memory has rotted
    through like something left out in the weather
    battered clean then littered dirty
    in the rain, chewed by mice and beetles,
    frozen and baked and stripped by the wind
    till it is unrecognizable, corpse
    or broken machine, something long useless.

    We forgive those whom their own machinations
    have sufficiently tangled, enshrouded,
    the fly who bit us to draw blood and who
    hangs now a gutted trophy in a spider’s
    airy larder; more exactly, the friend
    whose habit of lying has immobilized him
    at last like a dog trapped in a cocoon
    of fishing line and barbed hooks.

    We forgive those we firmly love
    because anger hurts, a coal that burns
    and smoulders still scorching the tissues
    inside, blistering wherever it touches
    so that finally it is to ease our own pain
    that we bury the hot clinkers in a mound
    of caring, suffocate the sparks with promises,
    drown them in tears, reconciling.

    We forgive mostly not from strength
    but through imperfections, for memory
    wears transparent as a glass with the pattern
    washed off, till we stare past what injured us.
    We forgive because we too have done
    the same to others easy as a mudslide;
    or because anger is a fire that must be fed
    and we are too tired to rise and haul a log.

    —Marge Piercy

  2. Stevie says:

    One of the happiest people I ever knew did not have an easy life at all. She told me once that every morning she drew an imaginary line on the table. On the left she mentally put a list of everything she could do something about that day. Everything to the right went to the Universe.

    Glenda has been gone 20 years, but that crosses my mind every day. I don’t do a perfect job, but I really try to make a conscious effort not to carry anything I can’t control. When you think about it, the list on the left of the imaginary line is pretty short.

  3. Stevie says:

    I have loved ones whose faith denominations are different from mine, though we are all Christians. I found out the hard way recently that the only way I can keep a civil relationship with them is to never discuss our faith. This bothers me. It seems if the subject of religion comes up, I either: feel patronized, or am met with scripture that is recited to prove that their way of worship is the only way and mine is wrong. I know you deal with people with all kinds of beliefs, Craig. How do you find common ground? . I seem to always feel disrespected or seem to irritate the other person, so I just avoid the subject.

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