“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns,” (Matthew 14:13).
Weak ankles have plagued me all my life, so the afternoon somewhere during my teen years when I stepped off of our sidewalk and hit the grass on my side, I was miffed, but not surprised. As a wave of pain rolled over me, all I wanted to do was lie still until the pain subsided. Familiarity didn’t dull the overall ache.
Sudden pain, whether physical or emotional, hits with shocking force, knocking us off balance and to the ground. Jesus Himself experienced this type of blow when He heard of John the Baptist’s death. He responded as we often do, by pulling away from others. He needed time and space to come to terms with the news.
The day I hit the ground, my father happened to be coming out of the door behind me. As any father would, he rushed over and tried to help me, checking to see if I was hurt. Because I was still in the shock phase, I told him not to touch me. I wasn’t ready for help, not even to evaluate whether or not I was seriously hurt.
Emotional pain can be the same. Sometimes a new loss strikes unexpectedly while other times a nagging, familiar weakness gives way under pressure. Either type can bring on the hedgehog defense, where we roll into a ball and simply ask others leave us alone.
Once that happens, the combination of shock and pain can give birth to lashing out. People come asking to help, but we roll tighter into our ball, wishing for porcupine quills to make them back away. We say or do things we later regret, even though we try to justify our actions. We were in pain at the time. Surely God understands our natural response.
But when we turn to Scripture, the Lord challenges “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” (Colossians 3:12-13).
We find ourselves torn between our human nature and God’s call to us as Jesus’ disciples. All Christians live in a spiritual war, but those of us who are chewed petunias have extra battles. Our injuries make us more sensitive, yet our calling is the same as those who haven’t experienced deep wounding. The world tells us protecting ourselves is justified. God says we’re to live as His children.
Does this mean that we’re doomed to reach for an impossible standard? Or that we should condemn ourselves for legitimate needs when in pain? No. Finding another response means deciding what to do before life throws us overboard instead of flailing around wildly in panic when it happens.
If possible, we follow Jesus’ example and withdraw from others, giving ourselves time to move through the first wave of pain. When the shock subsides, we can think more clearly and respond in a way pleasing to God.
Sometimes we can’t physically withdraw, so we need to draw boundaries. We tell those who want to help what we need and ask them politely to honor our requests. Some may still push, but that’s another issue.
We have a Heavenly Father who always has the perfect response for us. He will not move in too quickly, but will stand ready to help, as we’re ready to receive that from Him. He understands if shock leaves us needing clear space for a short time.
Fortunately, I don’t seem to turn my ankles as often as I once did, but I still have both physical and emotional pain. Old wounds flare up again or something new hurts me and I return to the battle to choose my reactions.
When Jesus returned from His time alone, He saw the crowds who had followed Him and had compassion on them. We receive the same response from Him when He sees our pain. He knows our weakness even as he asks us to continue following Him.
Father, give us grace to cope with pain—Your grace through Your continual presence, and Your grace in guiding our response. Help us find the difficult balance that comes with living wounded.