Forever, I’ve wanted to remodel my master bathroom, but it beat me to it. It remodeled me.
What were the builders of my step-down shower thinking? Let’s drop a fifteen-square foot hole in the house, line it with slick ceramic tile, and not install grab bars. What could possibly go wrong?
I’m sure the Turkish-bathhouse vibe was a 1980s selling point, but unlike leggings, shoulder pads, and Jazzercise videos, a step-down shower is tough to toss into the landfill. My bathroom shower is too slippery to use when it’s wet—so slippery that I avoid it. I use the hall shower. What is my master bathroom shower’s purpose even? Treachery. Its purpose is treachery.
Enter, exhibit A.
I hastily stepped out of my walking shoes in my bathroom last weekend when I lost my footing and stepped back to stabilize myself—only I stepped into the thin air that fills my step-in shower more often than water. Imagine the cartoon moment when Wile E. Coyote zooms off the cliff and freezes, suspending time and physics and a diabolical plan to drop an anvil on Road Runner. I’m here to tell you that suspended moment is real, because after what seemed like several thousand seconds, my foot finally crumpled onto the shower floor, unceremoniously bringing the rest of my body with it. The shower curtain, which I managed to clutch SINCE THERE ARE NO GRAB BARS, cascaded delicately down upon me. Like a sheet covering a corpse at the morgue. Meep meep.
My shin, my spine and my dignity are black and blue. And my carefully mapped out plans for this week have been shelved for a different schedule—one where ibuprofen, acetaminophen and ice take turns telling my shin and my spine and my dignity not to throb. I never saw it coming. Stupid step-down shower.
I don’t know why I’m surprised. Fifteen-foot holes in the ground lurk everywhere in our lives, don’t they?
Painful memories that swallow us whole.
Tragic losses that divide life into before and after.
Doctor appointments that begin with “It’s cancer.”
Dinner outings that end with “I want a divorce.”
Sins that have compulsive, electromagnetic pull.
Sunken, treacherous pitfalls with greedy mouths and slick sides are everywhere. Whatever are we going to do about the wounds we suffer when we fall into them? Oh, how to find a pain-free life?
We could use the hall shower, avoiding the possibility of pain and not opening ourselves up to let love and vulnerability leave their dangerous, indelible marks on our lives. Make it out alive without ever living.
We could seal the pain off, denying or disallowing our grief until the day when we lose our footing, stumble backward and crumple into a heap because grief, like gravity, has its laws.
We could never recover, staying black and blue, bitter and buried, perhaps even pulling the people God trusted us to love into the ingrown confinement of our echo chamber of pain.
We could even decide that bruises have bennies. We get attention. People bring us dinners. (Thanks, Kristi.) The “there theres” become dopamine hits, and so we find enough pain—real, imagined, and manufactured—to keep pace.
What if we learned instead to steward our pain?
Few writers have shaped my views on pain like Frederick Buechner, who suggests that stewarding our pain, even trading in it, if you will, is a way of growing. “If you bury your life—if you don’t face, among other things, your pain—your life shrinks. It is in a way diminished. It is in a way taken away,” he writes in A Crazy, Holy Grace.
But, and I’m paraphrasing Buechner, to face pain, to open it up, to cry out to God about why He abandoned you in it, and to trust someone else with the treasure of it—that’s when healing and grace and God may be found.
It’s a risky, tricky business. I’ve traded pain with some who exploited it and with others who offered empty “there theres.” I’ve traded pain with people who sheltered my sin. That’s not being a good steward.
To really steward my pain, I think I have to be willing to place it all the way into wise, careful hands that will dress my wounds if they’re exposed and lance them if they’re festering. Friends who know the difference between my pain and my pretense. Mentors who are willing to ask: “Where will you go from here? Where will you grow from here?” Stewarding my pain. Trading it as a commodity. I’m trying to wrap my brain around these ideas. It would help if I weren’t still seeing stars.
But fifteen-foot holes lurk everywhere in our lives. Pain mastery is a skill that the people in our lives need us to pursue. I like the idea of stewarding pain. I like the idea of remodeling my master bathroom, too, but that will only fix one trouble spot. I think the idea of stewarding our pain has more possibilities. Especially in a world that’s black and blue.
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