Sometimes it really does hurt

I took my daughter to the orthodontist today for what seems like the zillionth time. There was a girl in the chair next chair who was much younger than my daughter, probably still in elementary school. She was crying. I don’t know if  she was just getting braces on or if it was her first tightening or what. But she was crying and saying, “It hurts! It hurts!” (BTWs, I had braces over 30 years ago, and I still remember. It does hurt.)

Her mother kept telling her, “Hush. It doesn’t hurt. It’s just uncomfortable. It’s not painful. It’s just uncomfortable.”

After it was over, the girl’s mother was clearly irritated with her daughter for insisting that she was in pain when what she was feeling was obviously mere discomfort.

I don’t know the backstory of this family. Perhaps the girl cries all the time for any little thing and her mother has just grown to be dismissive of her complaints. Or maybe mom had a bad day and was already irritated and impatient before the appointment even started.

But whatever their story, I just wanted to hug the little girl and tell her, “I know! It DOES hurt!”

One of the worst things we can do for people who are in pain–be it physical or mental or emotional or spiritual–is dismiss that pain with a “it’s not so bad” or “it doesn’t really hurt” or “it’ll be fine” or (the absolute worst!) “you just need to get over it.”

Why do we feel the need to minimize or just plain avoid other people’s pain?

Sometimes we fail to acknowledge people’s pain because we don’t know how to fix things. If we admit that a person really is in pain, we should be able to do something. If we don’t acknowledge the pain, maybe we’re off the hook, and we don’t have to feel so helpless.

But we don’t have to be able to fix the pain to help the person in pain. Sometimes the best thing we can do is say, “Wow. That really sucks.”  There is great power in acknowledging someone’s pain and suffering. There is something healing that occurs when we visibly or verbally recognize another’s pain.

People who are in pain, particularly people who live with chronic pain, are often made to feel like they are whiners or that they should just learn to “toughen up.”  When we recognize their pain, we are acknowledging that we see how difficult it is for them, and that we take their lives and their pain seriously.

So the next time you encounter someone in pain, don’t brush them off or make light of what they are feeling. Remember the four S’s (see, sorry, support and sureness).

See– I see that you are hurting

Sorry–I am sorry you are hurting

Support–Please tell me what I can do to help

Sureness–Know that God is with you always…especially when you are hurting

Though none of those statements will ever cure anything, it’s amazing how far they will go in helping to heal the hurting.

–Rev. Anne Russ


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