Let us begin today by all taking a breath together. That scripture reading we heard can bring up feelings for many of us....many in this room have struggled with fertility issues, have suffered the pain of not being able to conceive, of miscarriage, of giving birth to children who have died, or children who are atypical in some way, disrupting the dreams we held for them before we found out. Many have struggled with being pregnant and not being ready for a child, maybe choosing to terminate the pregnancy, or give a child up for adoption, or have had a child removed from their care. Many have had adult children who have died or are estranged. And with circumstances that change after a child is born that throw everything out of balance. Many have not been seen and heard when they have said they don’t want a child, or not been in a position to have a longed for child, or been told they should not have children because of who they love. And many other things have caused pain around the whole notion of what society considers normal around children. So let us take a moment to hold all that hurt and harm as we breathe and pray together:
Loving God, we know that there is a lot of hurt we hide around the issue of family and children. We know that most of us in this room have faced some pain around this issue. Be with us today as we look at hidden hurts, as we feel the ways we believe we have failed, as we hold and acknowledge the pain and the shame we have experienced. Heal us. Help
us find ways to be vulnerable so we can break the isolation and silence the subject of family often causes. Help us be sensitive to one another as we move through this world, so we can recognize the hidden pain in one another and cause no more harm.
If you would like someone to speak to about the pain you are carrying around children or some other hurt, please reach out to me. You are not alone. You do not have to carry this in silence.
There is a story I’ve heard about a teacher who, at the beginning of the school year, told the children to take a piece of paper and crumple it up.. She explained that each time we say or do something mean, this is what happens to the other person. Now she told them to uncrumple it.... Or course, no matter how hard they tried, the paper still had wrinkles and folds in it. She let the kids sit with that for a moment, no words needed to explain what she meant. But I think more than just seeing that our words and action can leave a lasting impact on someone, when we get crumpled, the crumpling takes up more space than a smooth piece of paper does.
I remember as a child, I got a good grade for some homework I had done. Now, my world was upside-down and back to front in a lot of ways, and I knew I would be in trouble if my mum saw that I had made an A+++ on my homework. While I wanted to show her and have her be proud, I knew it
would upset my brother, and therefore upset my mum. If I got B’s and C’s, or even an A- I was safe, but any grade above that I would get in trouble because I would be showing my brother up. He was older than me by 2 years, and we were in the same small school until I was nine, and everyone knew us all, Teachers would often tell my brother he should be more like me, and it caused a lot of trouble at home.
I still remember to this day that what that homework was... I was 8 and we had been asked to make a list of words that sounded the same but were spelt differently.... Like two and to and too or their and there. I had gone home, and something about this homework had really sparked excitement in me.... Maybe because it showed that not everything was so clear cut. I began to think of words.... Like our (and in this is our church) and hour (as in sixty minutes). I pulled out a dictionary and looked through it for inspiration and earnestly wrote down all the words I could find. I think we had been asked to make a list of ten words, but I filled up page after page, my imagination sparked at the task. I skipped to school the next day and was proud to hand my paper in, my hard work right there in front of my teacher, Ms. Spaeth.
But then, I got my paper back with it’s A+++ my heart sank as I realized what I had done. I went to the teacher and asked her to take the pluses away and put a minus there instead. She looked confused at the request
and said, “Alison, you earned this. You worked really hard, and did more than anyone else in the class. You did a really good job. I’m not taking that away from you.” So I took my paper back to my desk and quietly crumpled it up. Then I stuffed it in my satchel, hidden among other pieces of paper and a couple of books and tried to forget about it. When I got home my mum asked how my day was. “Fine,” I replied. She took my satchel to look to see what homework I had. And I prayed she wouldn’t pay any attention to the crumpled up piece of paper. But what I didn’t think about was how much more room a crumpled up piece of paper takes over a flat piece pf paper. At once she spotted it and pulled it out. My plan had failed. And after the trouble I got into that night I never cared about homework again.... Just doing the minimum needed to get by.
That’s what it is like when we try to hide our hurts too. Everyone in this room is carrying around some kind of hurt and pain. It may be something that you did that you regret, or something that was done to you by someone else, or a physical pain, or just a feeling of not being right that you never share with anyone. How often, when someone asks how you are, do you simply reply, “I’m good.... I’m fine.... I’m ok.” And if someone asks how your day was, “Good.” Might be your go to reply. We crumple and stuff anything that has happened that has caused us pain into the depths of our bodies and try to pretend it isn’t there. But when we do this...
like the crumpled up papers.... It ends up taking up more room, it becomes bigger, it can grow and stick out in ways we don’t want it to. And sometimes the things that we carry around that have hurt us end up hurting someone else. We might be short tempered with someone because we are trying to hide our hurt, or turn our backs on our friends or do something we regret. All because we are unwilling to show and share our pain.
When Hannah tried to hide her hurt, others would not let her forget it. Peninnah would make fun of her and mock her and parade her children around in front of her. I imagine her saying things like, “It’s easy to have children. Why is God punishing you? I have been blessed.... God loves me more. And Elkanah loves me more too for I gave him children.” The basic assumption at that time was that God controlled who had children and who didn’t, that it was all part of some Divine plan. Of course, today we know that’s not the case.
Hannah was really hurt by this, and would fast and pray and weep, and was met with a lack of understanding around her pain. And even on the day she was praying silently to God in the temple, she was misunderstood by the priest who thought she was drunk.
This is often how our hurts are met too.... Either with someone telling us we shouldn’t be so sensitive, telling us to stop crying, telling us to be brave, telling us to get over it or put it behind us or forgive and move on. Yet each
time a hurt is met with a lack of compassion and understanding, we put another crumple in the paper and try to hide it deeper inside. Even when we know the crumple adds to the volume and size of the hurt, and the pushing it deep does not help.
So what is the alternative?
Rev. Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum says, “Hannah finds some peace after she explains her feelings in her own words, and she is (finally) respectfully acknowledged by Eli. Even as Eli himself is not able to provide an immediate solution for Hannah, he is able to accept her hurting and pray for her. Eli does not have to solve anything to be present.”
And this is key for each of us. To hear someones pain. To be heard. To sit with them in it. To be sat with. To not solve or fix it for them but to see it and be with them. To be seen. And if it feels like there is no one who can do that with you, to practice doing this with ourselves... to look at the pain, to not push it down but give it room to move through.
Each time we do this, the hurt smooths out a little more and it begins to take up less space. Each time we name and have compassion toward a hurt, we heal a little more.
AA Milne wrote:
It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn't heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore's house.
Inside the house was Eeyore.
"Hello Eeyore," said Pooh.
"Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet" said Eeyore, in a glum sounding voice.
"We just thought we'd check on you," said Piglet, "because we hadn't heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay."
Eeyore was silent for a moment. "Am I okay?" he asked, eventually. "Well, I don't know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That's what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all.
Which is why I haven't bothered you. Because you wouldn't want to waste your time with someone who is sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all, would you now."
Pooh looked and Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.
Eeyore looked at them in surprise. "What are you doing?"
"We're sitting here with you," said Pooh, "because we are your friends. And true friends don't care if someone is feeling sad, or alone, or not much fun to be around at all. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are."
"Oh," said Eeyore. "Oh." And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.
Because Pooh and Piglet were there. No more; no less.
And isn’t this so true. That all it takes sometimes is for someone to acknowledge our pain, to see we are hurting and to come and be with us. When our hurts can come out of hiding and be accompanied in some way, when they don’t get made fun of or belittled, when someone is willing to sit with us in it until we feel better, we do feel better! We don’t need to be fixed or have anyone else take our pain away.... They can’t anyway.... We just need it to be seen.
And this can happen in many ways.... We may find a book where someone else’s pain is like ours and be comforted. We may find a friend to sit with us. We may find our voice and be able to share our story. We may pray and feel God’s comfort for us. We may even just look at it ourselves with compassion and love.
But whatever your hurt is, don’t crumple it up and hide it. This doesn’t work. It just makes it take up more space. Instead, look at it.... With God, with a friend, with a spiritual director or therapist or pastor, with a teacher or parent or spouse.... Name it with compassion and love. And watch it change and heal and smooth out and take up less space.
And that’s what we want.... For when we have been hurt that hurt will always be with us in some way, but we want it to take up less of our lives, to not be so consuming, to form us as part of who we are but to not
overwhelm us any more. To have smoother edges that don’t push and hurt us in the same way.
So show your hurt in a safe space and watch it begin to smooth out and fit itself into your life in a new way.