“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain.” - Fr. Richard Rohr
My childhood comes back to me from time to time like some half-remembered dream. My mom was an immigrant, anxious and caring, but also harshly critical. My dad was a Marine through and through, embodying duty, discipline, and dedication towards his family, corps, and country. However, he was also a deeply troubled man prone to fits of terrifying rage. The love would come in drips and drabs, but eventually it would inexplicably run dry. I remember these years drenched in fear and loneliness. I had every effort to become the well-mannered and studious son in hopes it would change things. But it only left me disappointed and feeling numb by the time I was a teenager. At the age of 17, I stopped caring - I drank, acted out, got expelled, and was thrown in Juvenile Hall.
“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” - Eckhart Tolle
Eventually, I began to turn my life around and anger was a driving force. Determined to prove everyone wrong who ever doubted me and show my parents that I would be better than them, I was full of resentment for so much and so many. Underneath the projected image of a driven and hardworking man was my boiling rage. In those years, I hurt many people, sometimes very badly, but I refused to stop enough to examine things. Addicted to my own pain and fueled by the anger that came from it, I would charge forward. As time went on, it became a drug and I grew increasingly selfish and self-righteous. By 26-years-old, the poor kid from the broken family looked like a success story on the surface. I earned multiple degrees, obtained a good job, traveled around the world, and was in a committed 7-year relationship. But the truth revealed no joy in any of it and I found myself as scared and lonely as the little boy I once remembered.
“When one has been angry for a very long time, one gets used to it. And it becomes comfortable, like old leather. And finally becomes so familiar that one can't ever remember feeling any other way.” - J.L. Picard
Entering into my late twenties, I could no longer contain the pain. The veneer began to crack. Although I tried to suppress it, run away, I was unable to escape. When my girlfriend of 10 years ended our relationship, I imploded. Staggering through the ruins of my life, I struggled to find the hope I needed to go on. Encouraged by a friend, I entered into intensive therapy and later, spiritual direction. It helped me see how far back and deep the pain pierced. It was my loyal companion and fervent defender, journeying with me as a little boy hiding under his bed to the hard-charging young man working two jobs to pay for his tuition. In the words of Fr. Richard Rohr, pain has been “my loyal soldier.” From Yann Martel’s spiritual odyssey, Life of Pi, it has been my tiger. And now, it was time to let pain go.
“Thank you for protecting me during the dark years, but the war is over and now I must ask you to become something else.” - Journal
Letting go of pain and learning to trust God was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but the further I walked towards healing and growth, the more meaning and purpose my life took on. It was as if a fog lifted and I could see the graces that has been there all along and the journey God was now inviting me. I practiced trying to be more compassionate, kind, and humble. I started learning to pause, savor, and bring attentiveness to my life. None of it was easy work and I stumbled many times, but with time, God’s healing balm brought wholeness to my heart. One day I looked into the mirror long and hard for the first in years, and I saw not only a man of limitations but also one who was deeply loved and wanted very much to love others in their limitations. I smile as I write this with a photo of my mom next to my laptop, grateful for all I have lived. Without it all, I would not become the loving man I am today.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift". - Mary Oliver