Help! I’m Processing Pain in Public

By Elaina Ayala

I was talking to a friend and fellow leader recently about a struggle they were having. It’s a struggle many of us experience, and it’s one I’ve heard quite a few times over the past few years. It’s the pressure we feel to be “on” when we are going through emotional processing. It’s the sobering reality of being visible in those times, when all we really want to be is hidden.

For most of my adult life, I’ve had this super awkward reoccurring dream. In the dream I’m trying to use a public bathroom and people keep invading my space. At times there will be people looking over the bathroom stall, sometimes they’re even trying to take pictures of me. Other times, I’ll be doing my business and the bathroom stalls just collapse. In each dream, whatever the scenario may be, one theme is being shouted to me loud and clear — you’re gonna have to “process” in public.  

Some people are really good at doing that discreetly. But me, I’ve never had a good poker face, as I like to say, I’ve never been one to “fake the funk”. Some of us, when we’re going through a personal issue, no matter how hard we try, people know it and it’s grueling.

If we know God, we know we’ll get through it, but in times like that, what we feel we need most is time. Just give us some time and maybe some space. Then, only then, we’ll move back into normal life and begin pouring into others again. The reality is, for most of us, we don’t have that luxury. Life doesn’t stop.

When we’re hurting, our body’s instinct is to heal itself. However, there is a trap that many fall into, it’s something we’re doing that hurts us more than it does heal us. It’s self preservation.

Here’s what that looks like in real life: We’re having a legitimate struggle, and it hurts. We’re finding that it’s PAINFUL to serve and to be seen in pain. We definitely don’t want to pour into others, because after all, what do we have to give out? We step away from visibility at all costs and then begins the downward spiral — the process of shutting down.

Our focus shifts from the outward and serving others, to the inward and serving our pain. And, if we’re not careful, we isolate, it’s our natural tendency. What we don’t realize, in the moment, is that this very process that we set up to heal ourselves is counterproductive, and sometimes even dangerous. One statistics finds that most people, when they’re choking, they actually run away from others!

It’s important for us to get help during struggles. I don’t want to downplay anyones’ grief. The struggle is real. Whether it be depression and anxiety that we’re dealing with, grieving a loss, or struggling in a particular relationship, those are serious areas that need attention. I know that God’s heart for us is to not suffer alone. It’s also God’s heart that we have longevity and not burn out. So please, do what’s necessary to find emotional health, but in the meantime, keep pouring out to others.

The Bible says that the generous will prosper, and he that refreshes others will he himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25). Wow! That means that you being refreshed is directly connected to you refreshing others.

In Matthew 14, Jesus encountered a situation of his own. He had just found out that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. The news was shocking to the entire community. It was unforeseen by the people and it was unjust. Jesus was close to John. I would imagine it was like losing a brother. The Bible says that when Jesus heard the news, he went into a boat to be alone. He was grieving. Soon after a large crowd began to form around him. I think it’s safe to assume they were shouting to him to come minister to them. They were desperate.

When I read that passage, I don’t know about you, but I struggle with that. I think, “For heavens sake, people, let the man grieve!” But what Jesus did was totally different. He looked to them and had compassion on them. He went to them and healed many.

Some of Jesus’ greatest miracles happened shortly after that. We read that he multiplied the food and fed 5000 (plus women and children) and walked on the water.

I had a situation arise a few months ago in my own life, and maybe you can identify with this one. It was during a large conference at our church and the Lord began to touch me during the altar time. He began revealing some things from my childhood that needed healing. It was a deep moment for me. I was in the back of the sanctuary, alone, with my face on the carpet, having a powerful moment with Jesus. Finally, I got up and headed to the front of the church to grab my purse. A dear friend stopped me and we began sharing with one another what God was doing in both of us. We were both crying uncontrollably. I should add, this is not our normal default. For us, this was a rare, but extremely defining moment in both of our lives.

Then, as I’m talking mid-sentence, it was like someone cut the music to the most inspirational part of a movie — I get a tap on my shoulder. It was a woman that I hardly know. She interrupts, “Hi Elaina, I’m getting ready to leave, can you prophesy over me?” I’m looking at her, totally caught off guard, broken, undone, with mascara covering my face.

Everything in me wanted to say no.

After all, I was broken and how dare she interrupt this obviously impactful moment I’m having? Hence the mascara.

But I heard the Lord say to me, “Pray for her”. I looked to her and I smiled, I genuinely smiled, and said, “Okay, you got it”. I finished up my conversation with my friend and prophesied to this woman with my whole heart, my full attention and with compassion. The Lord began to refresh me and I felt my capacity to love increase soon after.

Thinking this through I concluded that I would rather having someone that is BROKEN but has the Holy Spirit praying for me, than someone who “has it all together” but doesn’t have the Holy Spirit.

So today, if that’s you, dig deep, pull on the strength of the Holy Spirit and press in. Reach past your comfort zone, God will reward you richly.


9 thoughts on “Help! I’m Processing Pain in Public

  1. Betsy

    This definitly ministered to me Elaina, wanting so badly to be hidden and the dreams…
    And I agree, I would rather have someone minister to me that is broken and filled with the Spirit. Good word. Thank you!


  2. Kim

    Wow. I had that same recurring dream for two years when I was on staff at a church. I was hurting and lonely. The pastor and his wife were abusive to me and I had no one to confide in without risk of hurting them and their position. I found a way to get out of that church and ran back home to where I’ve been for the past two years. I work in a secular job and barely attend the church my dad pastors that I grew up in. I’ve been hiding and trying to work through the pain. I’m not quite over it yet. Thank you for your article.


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