Recently, I spoke at a youth ministry conference and I shared the story of losing one of my students to suicide. My talk wasn’t about that, it was about relational communication with teens, but I had used my story with this teen as an example.
Much to my frustration however, tears welled up when I shared that he died. I had been confident that after four years I would be able to share this experience without getting emotional, but alas.
Here’s the thing, though. Many people came to me afterwards to thank me for being vulnerable and for sharing my pain with them. Because for a minute in that room, my pain over losing him was tangible as I fought back the tears—and everyone saw it.
And it was okay.
Actually, it was more than okay. It was real and raw and it allowed me to speak into the lives of the youth leaders present in a way that would not have been possible had I not allowed them to see my pain. Although I was frustrated at first (hey, nobody likes to cry in public, right?), I was immensely grateful afterwards.
Ministering from pain is hard, because it requires you to open yourself up to hurt all over again. We don’t like to talk about our pain or events that deeply wounded us, because it brings the hurt right back to the surface and we experience parts of it again. Self-preservation often leads us to talk about easier topics or far-away hurt we’ve long since processed.
By doing that, we’re losing a powerful opportunity to connect through vulnerability however. Nothing, nothing unites people more than a shared experience of vulnerability. No matter what your pain is about, if you are able to share about it in a way that makes it a universally felt hurt, you can connect with your listeners.
Sharing your pain, making yourself vulnerable, allows you to minister to them because they will open not just their ears to you, but their hearts as well. You’ll be able to let your message hit home hard and deep.
It has to be real though. There’s no manipulating here—the pain you share has to be authentic and true. That’s what makes it so terrifying by the way.
The other thing is that you have to be at peace with the pain. For the first three years after it happened, I did not talk about his suicide other than in personal conversations with friends. It was too raw, too close, and way too deep to publicly share this.
The first time I did open up a bit more, it was in the relatively safe environment of my old church, the same church he had attended. I was surrounded his friends, his family, by my friends, my former youth leaders, and others who knew me and loved me. We shared that pain (and quite a few tears) together.
The second time I went public, was in a blog post—which is a ‘safe’ way as well, because it’s indirect. I cried buckets when I wrote it, but nobody could see that. It was emotional and I got a ton of reactions on it, but it allowed me to share my pain without it being too confrontational.
This conference recently was the first time I talked to ‘strangers’ about it. And it was the right time, because I had processed the pain and was at peace with what had happened. You can’t share pain that you haven’t accepted yet; a message or talk is not a psychiatrist’s chair.
If you are willing to be vulnerable and share your hurt with others, God can use you to connect with others in a powerful way. Ministering from pain is never easy, not should it be something you do every week. But with the right topics, those that you have deep personal experience with, it can be a mighty tool to be used by the Holy Spirit.
Have you even ministered from pain? How did God use this in the lives of others?