By Giselle Ortiz
I held her and could feel her little body shaking amidst the quiet sobs. She held me tight and I could feel her pain. I didn’t want her to leave. My heart ached and silent tears rolled down my face. There have been so many that I didn’t want to leave. As I held her, I cried out to God:
Why does it hurt so much?
Why does it happen over and over?
Years ago I read something that has forever changed the way I view ministry. Katie Davis wrote in her first book Kisses from Katie: “I didn’t realize that when I asked to be drawn closer to God’s heart, it meant being drawn closer to His pain.” And being here at Holbrook Indian School has brought me in close proximity to pain over and over.
The pain has taken several forms: investing in someone only to have them reject it all and leave; seeing the torturous expression on the eyes of the children as they share about the atrocities they’ve experienced; watching as kids make bad choice after bad choice and refusing to reach out for the help I know I can give; the rejection of my heart because there is this negative belief that it love is undeserved; being accused of not really caring and then being shut out.
The list can go on.
Choosing to show up in the midst of brokenness is painful. Getting close to someone covered in thorns means blood will be shed. And in the desire to be a vessel for healing, there is this cause and effect that happens. All the sudden, the wounds I see in others highlight the wounds I’ve been carrying in myself. With pain often comes exposure. There are days when it feels like my whole existence is pain. Pain from without and pain from within. There have been moments of deep struggle with a darkness that suffocates and moments when even taking the next breath is exhausting.
When staring into the face of immense need, brokenness and fear coming in powerful waves that threaten to drown, the survival instinct kicks in and I desperately want to run. I don’t judge the poor choices of the damaged so harshly anymore. I no longer think I have the answers to all the brokenness in our world. Experiencing pain brings humility.
There is this cat palm in my house that is dying. (I’ve tried to revive it but I’m a beginner and don’t seem to have a very good handle on it yet.) There are these leaves that are brown and look infected. I read I’m supposed to cut these off and I almost cringed as I heard the snip of the shears doing their harsh work.
As I snipped, I thought about the process of pruning and its spiritual implication. Merriam-Webster defines it the following way: “to reduce especially by eliminating superfluous matter; to cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth.”
Jesus talks about pruning:
“[The Gardener] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2).
I have mixed feelings with this passage. There’s a sense of honor that God loves me too much to leave me where I am but there’s also a sense of fear.
Pruning is painful. The invitation to follow Jesus and take up our cross; to die to self and be born again in Jesus – this is an invitation into pain. When Jesus called me to minister to a population of broken and hurting kids, His call was an invitation to share in His pain. Every day I choose to surrender to His will and I ask to be drawn closer to Him, I am choosing to open myself up to His pruning. His pain.
In psychology, there is this concept of defense mechanisms. Human beings are born with the instinct to survive. Depending on life experiences, certain defense mechanisms are developed to self-protect against any perceived threats. A few examples of common defense mechanisms are denial, repression, projection and rationalization. Humans also try to make sense of life experiences by processing data (facial expressions, words, tone of voice, actions, feelings, etc.) and often, the data is processed in a distorted way. Certain common distortions are magnification, filtering, fortune-telling, and mind reading.
Why am I sharing a little bit of psych 101? Let’s go back to the definition of pruning: “to reduce especially by eliminating superfluous matter; to cut off or cut back parts of for better shape or more fruitful growth.”
Could it be that God’s painful pruning is His necessary sanctifying work to rid me of infected areas preventing further growth? Could it be that through this pain, there is redemption? Restoration of who I was meant to be before sin’s infection? Just like sanctification comes before glorification, could this pain be the prelude to victory?
Paul shares that to share in Christ’s glory, we must share in His sufferings (Romans 8:17). Could it be that through the pain there is abundant life?
I hear His invitation into the pain as clearly as I heard His invitation to the wilderness seven years ago. With His nail-pierced hand reaching, He whispers Do you trust Me?