When There’s Too Much Hurt – How Do We Respond?

Tears fall. The woman shares her story. It’s so full of despair, full of shame, and full of loneliness. See me as human, she says. See me as more than zero.

I open the mailbox. A solitary letter sits inside. You were not accepted, it says. You were not enough to get into this program. You are not enough.

A bomb detonates. Shards of metal and flame extinguish life. Another crater gets left behind. Another family gets ripped apart by a drone strike. Why must my “freedom” cost so many innocent lives?

He was just a young boy. He could have been done so much with his life. Why was he shot? Why was his body left cold on the pavement on that dark, winter night?

There’s so much malice contained in the buzzing of a mosquito – so much sickness in its sting. Preventable. Treatable. Yet it still delivers death to millions.

The sirens never seem to stop. They wail and wail and wail. Trouble. Sickness. Injury. Crime. Death. Will they go ever go silent?

Water rises. And in a flash, the little they had washes away. The storm takes their last hope. And they have nothing. What solace can I offer them?


There’s so much pain and hurt in the world. It can strike us in a barrage of emotion – threatening to overrun us.

How do we allow ourselves to feel enough of that pain – enough that we remain human, enough that we still show compassion, and enough that we don’t become cold and uncaring?

At the same time, how do we avoid taking too much of it on – too much that we become overwhelmed, too much that we give up hope, or too much that we become broken ourselves.

I would love to tell you I have a perfect answer to these questions. But I don’t. Nor do I believe there is such an answer – a simple formula or rule that works in every situation. Instead, we’re left with a journey, a lifelong exploration of what it means to be human. We’re left with life.

I have, however, found a few things helpful on my journey.

Lean into the tension – keep asking the questions, keep pushing the boundaries, and keep experimenting with new approaches. Sometimes, we’ll get the balance wrong and will be left paralyzed by the hurt. Or we won’t do enough when we should have. But it’s how we learn.

Start with our journey – our personal practice and growth. With simple steps such as offering prayers of compassion to strangers, sitting in meditation, or greeting the people we pass on the sidewalk, we can, over time, get better at living into the tension. And from our transformation, we can transform others.

Focus on one thing and put the rest aside. There’s a lot of need in the world, but it’s OK for us not to help with everything. For the many things we can’t change, sometimes the best thing we can do is offer a short prayer, trust another will help in that situation, and return to the work we’re called to do.

Seek out community. We don’t have to do it alone. The support of others gives us strength we couldn’t have come up with on our own.

But most of all, remember the good. For all the suffering, there is much to be grateful for. It may not all be good, but it’s also not all bad. That’s worth celebrating.


What about you? How do you lean into the tension? What are some practices you’ve found helpful in working with the suffering and hardship of life?


PS: My thanks to Tom for his great questions in the comments last week.

6 thoughts on “When There’s Too Much Hurt – How Do We Respond?”

  1. Holding space for pain: Insights from the field of Marriage and Family Therapy… A therapeutic alliance is the number one determining factor in successful therapy, therapy that brings about change. Same for friendships that effect growth. Does this person “get me”? Do they understand my goals, values, feelings? Change happens when we establish a strong alliance, and then take risks of challenge that may break the alliance. Overall, therapeutic friendships create safe-enough space to take risks, to hold the pain and the dissonance.

    1. The idea of holding space is so powerful. It’s not an easy thing to do (as it demands strength and vulnerability on our part), but it’s necessary.

  2. Good stuff here. I guess you hit a good topic for me when thoughts go through my head, and I have feelings, but nothing making sense enough to put in words. I have to think some. Thanks Joshua.

  3. I must be a moody person. One day I can look past bad news, mentally ill people walking down the street, and the levels of suffering around. Other days , slivers get through. They catch me off guard. One sure has to be “mentally tough” in this world or you can sink-or so I remind myself.

    At work, I distance myself from it well. I don’t read the news or watch it. If its important someone will tell me. It makes me a lousy conversationalist on current events.

    That which we absorb seeps out of us. So I try and manipulate what I absorb. No doubt that’s why I like this bright army . I love that title.

    Like everything , there is a balance. Yesterday I didn’t have it, today I do. Thank goodness for dunkin donuts coffee.

    Despite the rock and roll, I sense inside me, and proud of , that little something that mimics a Joshua. Its ambition. And not personal. Its a big hope. It comes from that sliver. Who knows, maybe great things come from people who get that balance wrong and come up with an idea that changes the life of one person, or many. Tom

    1. It’s definitely a balance. But as much as it’s nice to get the balance right, the bigger thing is to make the attempt in the first place. That’s what that lets us see the big hope and the people around us. That’s what lets us see ourselves.

      I’m excited to see what comes of that ‘sliver’. I’m thrilled to have a small glimpse into your journey.

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