What I Can Learn from Pain

With the passing of a high school friend, and a grandmother, in the same night nonetheless, I understand that grief, sorrow and pain are only brief processes by which I learn what I value in this life. C.S. Lewis once imagines that grief is a state of being; but he then understands that pain is, rather, a process -- grief, pain, and sorrow do not require a map, so to put the matter, but a history. He adds: "There is something new to be chronicled every day."1 So, even grief, pain and sorrow are fluid; the pain I am currently experiencing, not only regarding the absence of people due to death but the pain of loneliness and longing, fluctuates.

Allow me to focus on the latter: the pain of loneliness and longing (to love and to be loved) is, though still powerful, a different landscape from what I experienced in December, January, and into February. Lewis continues: "Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape."2 I have found this to be true. The root cause of my pain remains intact; but the actual experience of this pain manifests a different context, rife with new encounters and observations, even though the end goal remains the same.

I talked briefly with a woman recently who, even after many years, recalls the love she still has for her lost love (husband). On the tip of her tongue, with all manner of implications, she wants to convey to me the pain of losing someone whom she loved so immensely -- almost as though to convey the notion: You are single and, hence, can avoid the pain of losing someone as have I. My reaction: At least you found such a life-altering love and were blessed to experience that love for over 40 years. "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

What emotional pain (within my particular framework of longing for someone to love) teaches me is similar to what physical pain teaches everyone: the presence of physical pain indicates a problem and/or a need for attention to a particular area of the body. The same is reserved for emotional pain. (I am, of course, excluding the reality of emotional and psychological pain due to lack of chemical functions in the brain. I am also not referring to psychosomatic issues related to the body and the mind.) The presence of emotional pain indicates a problem and/or a need for attention within a particular frame of reference.

This particular pain, in my experience, teaches me about my values. My desire for a life-long mate is not driven by lust, a need or want for sex, but from an inner desire to share my life-experiences and talents and giving nature and, of course, love with another human being -- another human being who longs for the same, to share his life-experiences, talents, giving nature, and immeasurable love with me. At almost 49 years-old I have come to understand that the sharing of life with another like-minded soul is a gift, an honor, a privilege often taken for granted.

This current pain informs me of my ever-expanding heart. Whoever you are, you who will soon capture the attention of my heart, I need you to understand one piece of reality: I am glad that I did not meet you 22 years or even one year ago because I was not ready for you. I needed to encounter the last grueling four months of emotional anguish in order to develop into the man who is willing and able to be for you what you want and need. That pain molded me, humbled me, and made my heart pliable so that I can be a confident blessing instead of a confused and uncertain mess who was far too intimidated by the unaffirming opinions of others to care for your lonely, needy, longing yet beautiful soul.

I hate pain; I hate grief and sorrow; and I know of no one who actually revels in either. But does not life itself demonstrate that, too often, grief, pain, and sorrow teach us life-lessons that we could not have otherwise learned? What is more uncomfortable is that time is also a necessary consideration. The time I had to spend in tears, in weeping beyond control, in hoping beyond and against all hope, when I could barely utter one short prayer, were all conditions that added to my ever-evolving heart for a life-long committed relationship. There was no shortening of that time I spent in grief that could've produced the same results.


1 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 60.

2 Ibid.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.