Middle seat, infant in arms. Let’s be honest… not the ideal flying arrangement. Especially when your husband and son aren’t the folks seated on either side of you.
I settled in for a mercifully short flight, and I offered up a silent prayer for kind and gracious traveling companions.
Our flight left the ground, and as our nearly two-year old wriggled non-stop in my lap, the man with kind eyes hidden beneath his Yankees baseball cap seated uncomfortably close to me smiled at our daughter.
He and I chatted about our time in Florida, the weather, what we did, and baseball (and in full transparency, I don’t have a whole lot to add to a baseball conversation). I asked if he was traveling alone, and he responded:
“Yes. I came down to visit my dad. My brother passed away five weeks ago in a car accident.”
There it was.
His eyes filled with tears and I saw his lips begin to quiver. So quickly, he revealed his pain. His hurt. His grief. His loss.
We spent the rest of the flight talking about his brother- about his brother’s wife, about his brother’s 3 and 6 year old children, about the firehouse his brother loved. Mostly we talked about how everything changed for my Yankee friend in one moment of one day.
He showed me pictures, and he shared beautifully with me, an utter stranger, sweet memories of his beloved brother.
As I left the plane, I was struck by the power of pain.
As much as it hurts, it is one of those universal human experiences. There is not a soul on this Earth who has escaped pain.
Tim Keller writes, “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”
The list goes on and on and on.
Every child we encounter in Mexico, Haiti, India and Nigeria has amassed in his or her young life far more than a fair share of pain. At a minimum, each child has experienced abandonment and hurt. And so many have endured much more.
Pain reminds us all, not so gently, we are not in control.
And the only way to process pain is to walk right on through it clinging to the Healer.
As one of my favorite teachers says, “if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it”.
Transformed pain looks like empathy, grace, forgiveness, understanding, mercy, and compassion.
As we show mercy, mercy is shown to us (Matthew 5:7). Our pain, our wounds, our hurts are sacred. With courage, we can choose to transform the pain, to take on a “me too” perspective rather than an “oh, poor you” view.
And it allows us to meet the children right where they are… in the midst of their hurt. Our transformed pain can compel the kids we serve to know pain is a part of their story, but it is not the defining factor.