I was just thinking of pain the other day, though not in connection with this. I was thinking of someone else, someone going through a terrible time in his life. What I was thinking of saying to him was that when you experience pain -- real pain, not just soreness or a headache, but white-hot, can't-get-away-from-it-anyway-you-move, scalding agony -- then time slows down. All times are NOW; to your distorted experience, it is difficult to believe that there ever was a time when you were not writhing in agony. It is also difficult to believe there there will ever come a time when you are not experiencing this. It makes you crazy, not to mention susceptible to all kinds of suggestions, some of which are best left uncontemplated. Then, when you don't hurt any more, you find it hard to believe that you ever felt what you felt when you were hurting.
And here's the thing: emotional pain is just as real as physical pain. A person with a tortured soul experiences the same distortion of time and is tempted to do the same kind of crazy things. I can see this in this person's life now, as I have seen it in others' lives, including my own.
Ministry to tortured souls is not having all the answers. Going with them through the fire -- just being there -- gives them an anchor for their sanity. By giving them a reference point other than their pain, it gives them the opportunity to continue to think and act in rational ways, rather than just reacting to the torture. We all need friends from time to time who will sit up with us, so to speak, and wait out the long hours -- not dismiss us, or give us self-help books, or tell us in frustration what the problem with us is.
Until the pain goes away. Hopefully, for good.