What characterizes many “therapeutic” (medical, pastoral, psychotherapeutic) encounters is the insistence of the person seeking help to direct the discussion on the hardships faced in the past or those being dealt with in the present. These hardships can range from difficulties, injustice, and illnesses to the loss of opportunities and other losses encountered in life. There is no question that there is a tremendous need for one to express the pain that is related to all these circumstances, whether they be objective or subjective. The lack of trust, the isolation and loneliness that dominates today’s society increases this need, yet the tenuous structure of today’s society, where genuine human relationships are rare, creates a narcissistic approach to things that cultivate one’s obsession regarding the difficulties one encounters.
It is without a doubt that a retrospection of the sufferer’s history is necessary so the person who has been called upon to offer help and guidance can better understand the sufferer. Such a structured retrospection is also necessary for the person seeking help as this will allow them to place their life circumstances in a different perspective, giving way to a clearer sense of self-knowledge and understanding.
The problem comes when someone insists and recycles the negative aspects of their life. This is a narcissistic type of behavior that does not allow sufferers to recognize the blessings and positive aspects of life that have been bestowed upon them and the factors that can contribute to change. The more one persists in such negative behavior and communication, the more one becomes ill-natured, aggressive, querulous, tiring, and, at the end, undesirable. It is as if one remains fixed in such behavior in order to make oneself a victimized patient. By doing this, persons will remain permanently rooted in their loneliness and will not have the will to change anything in their life.
Having this in mind, one wonders if someone with such behavior can hear the exclamation: “Today, the bitter water…is turned into sweetness at the Lord’s presence. Today we are free of the ancient grief, and like a new Israel, have been redeemed. Today we were delivered from darkness and are bathed in the light of knowledge of God Today the world’s gloom is dispersed in the epiphany of our God” – if they can believe that there is the possibility that life can change, despite its difficulties.
For after His baptism in the Jordon, Jesus not only reconfirms this possibility but also confirms the need for us to change our lives by saying: “Repent! For the Kingdom of God has come!” In other words, “Reevaluate your life and change the way you live so that you can live the new life, whose pivotal point of reference is the Creator of Life Eternal.”
When people approach me to ‘pour out their pain’, I listen to them attentively, and I try to understand what is troubling them. I allow them to tell me everything that they have experienced in the past and all that they are now encountering. In turn, with great discretion, I try to help them to see how all of this has affected them—their personal beings, their inter-personal relationships, even their relationship with God. But, when they continue to dwell on the misfortunes of the past or their present sufferings, I stop them and ask the direct question: “Next?” (i.e “Move on! What will be your next step? What will you do to change your predicament.?”)
Here, I am reminded of the dialogue between Frodo and Gandalf in Tolkien’s work The Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Rings. After describing a very disturbing event that came upon him, Frodo tells Gandalf: “I wish it need not have happened in my time," Gandalf responds: "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
During our life, we must come to the realization and understand that “Now is the time of judgement (“krisis”) of this world. “Behold, this is the acceptable time; behold this is the time of repentance.” We have the responsibility and the possibility to change things in our life. Maybe not everything, but a lot. It may not be something spectacular, but something that is simple, beautiful, substantial, and true. The most important thing is not to experience “something” in life but to live and experience life with someone. If we search, mostly through prayer, the possibilities, and the ways that we can change, our life will be revealed to us; provided that we want it to change.
Fr. Stavros Kofinas