The Roadmap of Suffering

Psych wards, shared grief, and belonging

The Roadmap of Suffering

Psych wards, shared grief, and belonging

5.16.24

In 2019, I spent a short stint in the psych ward after many hard months of mental ups and downs. When I was released, my friends and family surrounded me and provided love and support that I could never express enough gratitude for. Surprisingly, however, I found another source of comfort in a group of strangers—strangers who had done their own time in the hospital, who had forged their own paths in the desert of mental illness. I was put in a group therapy rotation with other men and women who had spent time trapped in their own minds. In their eyes, I saw my own grief. In their stories, I heard my own pain. I could speak freely about the pain that was radiating within me without fear of the person on the other end of the table flinching or misunderstanding me because they too had been in that prison. They had a unique kind of love to offer me that my healthy-minded friends were unable to at that moment of my life. 

 

There is a saying that I’ve heard many times in my life: “Your scars become roadmaps for another walking the same path.” The idea that the pain we face is going to serve another meaningful purpose is extremely comforting, especially when you’re knee-deep in what can often feel like senseless or life-altering grief. Grief is never convenient or well-timed. We are taken in often with the shadow of shock still written on our faces.

 

But there is something to be said about finding comfort in another who has traveled the same road. I think we naturally seek out like-minded pain in those moments because it is often the words that come from the heart of someone who has experienced that particular flavor of grief that brings the most balm to your fresh wound. Then, it becomes a shared pain, a pain that is enveloped in a sense of belonging and understanding.

 

If this is true on a human level, how much more true is it on a divine level? The love we are able to offer someone becomes richer and deeper when it comes from a place of shared grief. Grief absorbs grief, and that truth cannot be replaced with good intentions, however much we may try. And it is that truth that God stepped into, in the person of Jesus Christ. When we read words of comfort and solace in the Bible, we can be assured that it comes from a fellow traveler, not from someone calling out to us from a high place. In fact, God left his high place, and walked away from his throne, in order to climb into the pits with us, to not only meet our despair and grief but to absorb it. In his short time on this earth, Jesus experienced loss, pain, suffering, despair, betrayal, and finally death. His hands are as muddy as ours as he reaches out to us, finding us in the dark in a way that nothing else can. His brow is sweaty, his body bruised and broken. David sang, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” We are loved by a God who did not give us a moralistic roadmap out of pain and suffering, but instead willingly and joyfully walked into it, knowing that that was the only way we could join him on the other side, whole and wrapped in joy.

 

Our scars become roadmaps for our loved ones who must travel the same road as us. But in the scars that trace the body of Jesus, even after his resurrection, as his encounter with Thomas shows, we find more than solace and comfort. We find a timeline of our redemption, a roadmap to the only way out from beneath the crushing weight of sin and death. His scars — his own walk through the valley — tell the story that the entire biblical narrative tells. Isaiah wrote, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The holes in his hands and feet, the gaping wound in his side, his scarred back and head all are strokes in the divine love letter of the gospel. As we feel our heart break, as we feel our chest collapse and our minds reel, we can be assured that the bloody hands of Christ hold us fast, and that should we open our eyes and look into His, we will find more than a roadmap out of this suffering, but an all-encompassing and unrelenting pursuit of every broken and hurting inch of our being.