The Uncontrollable Overwhelming

- Troy Hatfield 

The short story is this: while attending a conference in Florida, I spent 6+ early morning hours in the ER battling (being battled by?) my first kidney stone.  During the past few weeks of healing and trying to forget, there have been two realities I cannot shake.

My brother-in-law, Will, drove and sat with me the entire time.  It obviously sucked for me, but it was also a crummy night for him.  He had to sit helplessly while I complained and struggled to find a posture that brought a glimpse of comfort.  He answered the medical staff’s questions when I couldn’t put together a logical sentence.  He made phone calls and pushed through sleepiness before eventually driving me to get a prescription.  Then the guy went to work.  

I don’t put myself in needy positions very often – I’m hesitant to “impose” myself on another person.  But it is no understatement that I simply could not have made it through that night without his presence.  In a section about suffering, David Ford writes:

 “Unless, somehow, we are held, we know we are in daily (and especially nightly) danger of falling into the abyss of despair, giving up in the face of this uncontrollable overwhelming.”  (The Shape of Living

I was held that night – often without being touched, but no less supported and comforted and sustained.  As bad as that night was, I knew I wasn’t alone and that someone was going to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself.  Thank God for each person who did a bit of holding.

When we got to the ER, I was taken into triage quickly, but had to wait before I was taken “back” to be seen.  That waiting turned into over 2 hours of pacing, throwing up, begging and moaning before I heard my name called.  

I obviously wanted (dare I say, needed?) relief during that time – the pain was intense and non-stop.  Waiting for the IV was really difficult.  Now that I’m on the other side of that experience, it’s clear that my habit is to seek relief, as quickly as possible, in all of my life – the big and (mostly) small things.

Boredom. Hunger. Loneliness. Confusion. Insomnia. Uncertainty. On and on and on.

I love this bit of a poem by Hafiz: 

“Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can.”

Brian McLaren suggests, “We need to feel our feelings, to let the pain actually catch up with us.” (Naked Spirituality)  I could probably use some fermenting and seasoning.  

What does it mean to let loneliness and other sources of discomfort “season you”? What is to be gained by postponing relief? What might I learn by paying attention to my reactions and impulses in those moments? Is there a benefit to avoiding immediate resolutions? What might be lost in quick relief?

I’m struck by these questions since that hospital visit.  While I’m not eager for moments of discomfort and “seasoning”, I am interested in the growth and insights available in them.  And I’m increasingly confident that I can make it through those moments because of those who are willing to hold and be present with me in the midst of them.

Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter @tr0yisbald.