Most of us have something in our past that’s a painful memory—a traumatic event, a heartbreak or betrayal, years of bullying or rejection, exclusion, abuse, an old anger that still gets triggered. We hear how important it is to move on, forgive, let go, live in the present, but those words can often seem like platitudes. If you’ve been hurt deeply enough, therapy, meditation, self-help practices, even prayer, may not completely free you from the tyranny of an old wound. True freedom requires the courage to embrace what happened to you and use it to change the world. When you can look back on the most difficult period in your life and feel gratitude instead of bitterness because you finally understand it was all part of God’s plan, that it was a catalyst toward realizing your purpose, that’s when everything changes. Turning pain into purpose melts the resentment away and replaces it with rare joy and a renewed love of life. There is no greater comfort to someone who is suffering, than another person who has been there and survived, and is willing to take their hand and guide them out of the dark.
Ask the Right Questions
Try asking yourself the following questions: Is it possible you’ve been looking at that painful memory the wrong way? What if the worst thing you ever went through was a sacred gift from God that you weren’t meant to understand until much later? What if the loneliness you might have endured in school, or the abusive marriage that made you afraid to trust again, a sickness that broke your spirit, or the loved one you tragically lost, was really a divine intervention all along specifically intended to prepare you for a powerful role saving others? What if you were handpicked to make a difference? If there’s a painful memory you can’t erase, instead of letting it consume you, turn your pain into purpose. Find a way to help others going through the same thing, and it will help you heal, too.
Clarifying the Experience
Take some quiet time and allow yourself to think back on that painful period in your past you can’t let go of, the one that prevents you from living fully now. In a notebook or journal, jot down as many memories as you can recall from that time. Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about the order. Later you can go back and arrange the events chronologically. Also, don’t worry about writing in full sentences or whether or not your grammar is correct. Let the contents of your heart spill freely onto the pages, without judgement or fear. Release the memories with abandon.
Take a Step Back
As you’re going through this exercise, begin thinking of your life as a story that’s still unfolding and you’re the author. Don’t govern or judge yourself as you chronicle your experiences. The key is to let go and get it out. After you’ve organized the memories chronologically, type up your notes so they’re clear and easy to read. Bulleting the memories/moments often works best. Then, put it aside for a few days. During that time, think about your talents, strengths, and what gives you joy. Do you like to write, speak, host events? Knowing this will help you later on.
Separate the Pain from the Purpose
Next, read through your notes and identify a focus for your Pain to Purpose initiative. For most of you, it will be obvious, but some of you may struggle with narrowing it down. For example, let’s say the worst period in your life was your divorce, and most of what you wrote in your notebook addresses those memories, but simultaneously while you were dealing with the divorce, you had a sick parent whom you were struggling to take care of, or a child getting into trouble at school. Life is often not simple and we can be experiencing multiple challenges at once. Anchor your initiative to the biggest issue, the one that was hardest.
Learn to Trust Yourself
As you embark on this amazing journey of healing, there may be moments when you second guess yourself or something doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. Stay the course. Don’t give up. You may find it helpful to research others who’ve turned their pain into purpose. There are dozens of memoirs by people just like you, who took something awful that happened to them and used it to change the world. There are newspaper and magazine articles that chronicle the stories of heroes who’ve achieved what you’re setting out to do. Turn to those stories for affirmation and courage. If a particular memoir inspires you, write the author a letter, ask for their advice.
Try the following technique as often as you need to remain centered. Close your eyes, and imagine breathing into trust and breathing out fear. As you inhale, visualize the trust as a stream of heavenly white light pouring down into you from above like a faucet filling you with strength. Visualize that white light drenching you with calm as it enters through the crown of your head making its way down into your body, deep into your cells, filling you with light. As you exhale, visualize the fear as darkness draining from your body being pushed out through your feet deep into the earth
Create a Plan of Outreach
Your outreach doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as inviting someone for coffee or lunch, and allowing them to vent and ask you for advice. You can do something on a larger scale too. You could approach your church, YMCA or public library, and tell them you’d like to start a support group or give a talk. You could also start a support blog, or ask your community newspaper if they’d let you write an article offering insights. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination. You could even write a book! There are so many options for self-published authors today that are both accessible and affordable. Whatever your pain from the past might be, the meaningfulness is knowing that you’re helping someone else, that you become the person for him/her you wish had been there for you when you were going through it.
Move to Forgiveness
Your spirit is like a candle flame that burns deep inside your solar plexus. It’s what allows you to forgive, to get back up and try again after a devastating disappointment, to lead with truth and compassion in all you say and do, to love with your whole heart and never waver. To forgive someone doesn’t mean that you’re letting this person off the hook or saying that what they did to you is okay. To forgive someone means letting go of the anger inside of YOU. Think of your heart like a closet that can only hold so much. If your closet is filled with bitterness, there won’t be any room for good things like love and healthy relationships. When you forgive, you empty the closet of negativity and make more room for God’s love and the love of others to fill that space.
Bad things happen to good people all the time. You can either allow it to blow out your candle flame or you can let it be the oxygen that nourishes the flame. If you were assaulted as a child or bullied, if you lost a parent at a young age, if you felt invisible as a teen, if you’ve battled an addiction or chronic illness—all the suffering you’ve endured and survived could save the life of someone else alone and scared right now, facing what you once did. The more you reach out with your wisdom, experience, and courage, the more you will heal, and instead of resenting what happened to you, you’ll finally be able to make peace with it.
Take your first step forward today. There may be someone already in your life who’s losing hope praying for help, going through what you did. It’s not an accident that you’re reading this article right now. Perhaps it’s someone at work who’s been absent a lot lately. Maybe one of your children is being bullied. Instead of focusing on making sure the school punishes the bully, find out about the bully’s backstory. You might be able to help in ways you could never have imagined. That person who needs your life experience to get through something that’s tearing them apart could be right there in front of you, and you just never noticed. You may be the answer to a prayer. You’ll never know unless you take a leap of faith. This is your moment.
Turning pain into purpose is one of the most powerful healing practices you can commit to. Not only will it change the lives of those you embrace with your strength, wisdom and compassion, it will forever change your life, too. Sometimes all it takes to save someone from hopelessness is another person who’s been there and survived.