Digging deeper into grace (11/01/2017)

An old Swedish proverb states, “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”

That is not just a bit of sweet sentiment. That is also the finding of recent medical research.

In the November 2017 issue of Christianity Today, Katie Jo Ramsey discusses her personal experience with suffering before citing the scientific evidence. She shares,

“One day a friend stopped by after she finished work to say hello. As she sat next to me on the couch, all I could do was weep. I was drowning in the sorrow of uncertainty, worried my life would never improve, but she wordlessly comforted me by coexisting with my suffering. By letting her see me undone, I realized I was loved even in such a broken state. The simple joy of being received by my friend, who refused to minimize my pain or try to fix me, created new life in the middle of grief. Joy’s coexistence with pain and vulnerability became part of my memory that evening. Suffering internalized is dark and heavy, but suffering shared engenders courage and hope.”

Then she gets technical: “Interpersonal neurobiology, a relatively new interdisciplinary approach to the brain and mindfulness, emphasizes the role of relationships on ‘neural integration’—like my friends’ compassion impacting my own experience. In The Developing Mind, neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel, who introduced the field, described how feelings of shame and suffering obstruct our ability to regulate emotions and responses, but as we feel heard and received by others, mental function and overall wellbeing can improve.

“From the first moments of life, just as we develop and survive in response to the relationships around us, so do our brains. Social connections are so essential to human well-being that they actually share a neurological pathway with physical pain.

“The more I discover about pain and relationships through research and my own experience, the more I see relationships as the means by which pain and corresponding suffering can be transformed.”

Dr. Henry Cloud addresses the same subject in his book, “The Secret Things of God.” He writes,

“One of my favorite examples of connectedness comes from a body of research regarding cortisol release in monkeys, rats, and other animals under stress. Cortisol is not something you want a great deal of floating around in your brain. It is a strong stress hormone. When they put a monkey in a cage and pipe in loud, scary noises (thus, high stress for the poor monkey), the amounts of this chemical in the monkey’s system is—as you’d expect—very high. But get this…when they put one of his buddies in the cage with him—even though the loud, scary noises are continued—the amount of cortisol in his brain goes down. The outside stressor is the same, but the inside stress level goes down just from having a friend nearby.”

Ramsey concludes her article with these words,

“Perhaps that is the gift of suffering: It forces us to realize we cannot bear the pain of life on our own. When I allow my suffering to be seen and received by others, my brain learns how to trust. Ultimately, relationships of shared brokenness teach my brain to rely on the only Person who can and will redeem the pain so rampant in my body and this world. My brain, like my body and soul, was made to crave relationships. In my suffering, I know I need others. More importantly, I know I need God.”

Here are my recommendations to you:

Are you hurting in some way? Don’t hold it inside. Don’t suffer alone. Share your pain with someone you can trust.

Do you know someone who is hurting? Reach out to that person. Sit with that person and listen.  You don’t have to “do” anything; just be there. Be a part of cutting suffering in half.

—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.

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Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa. Pastor Tripp can be reached by e-mail at: tomtripp@frontiernet.net