The Rev’d C. Quehl-Engel
Christ’s humanity—not only his inclusive love and tenderness but his fear and pain, his betrayal by friends, his begging God to take away the cup, his crying “My God, why?”—all that vulnerability, so much like our own—grants comfort. Comfort for the fears, pain, and limitations in our own lives that we work so hard to deny or mask. We’d love it if God came to take our suffering away, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. God came instead to suffer with us, to walk with us through the dark shadow, and help us carry the crosses we bear. To help us accept and relinquish; and to take on his story as our own, the paschal rhythm of dying down and rising up. To have the audacity of faith and empowerment to not be defeated by fear or allow despair to have the final word.
The broken places. The place in our lives that scares us. Those places in our lives—be it as individuals or a campus or world--where we aren’t all put together and strong. The soft spot—that is the point of entry Jesus points toward as the way to new life and resurrection this side of heaven. Acceptance of the adversities we face; our human failings and falling, our psychological or physical limitations and illnesses, our shame, hunger, conflicts--those parts of our lives we try so hard to deny or mask becomes the way. Its not our heroism, greatness, or accomplishments God asks of us, or reaching the finish line of Lent having successfully achieved our fast or whatever the goal was, as if Lent is meant to be yet another accomplishment to pad a spiritual resume. The point of Lent and this day isn’t meant to be anything other humbly shedding the ego, and letting God bend low to love us, flaws and all.
Sometimes we’re so busy trying to impress God with how great we are, with proving our worth and belovedness, that we forget how God did the exact opposite…He showed is this other way to get it through our heads. God became weak like us. Needy like us. Afraid like us. He asked “take this cup away; this burden is too hard” just like us to show us the way.
Someone once said “God is not easily impressed—but then God never asks us to try to impress. It is as if God turns to us when we are consumed with our own unworthiness and are attempted to avoid meeting with Him, and cuts across all our excuses and says: “Relax, I already know you.”
The very things we try to mask about ourselves—these weak vulnerable places become the pilgrim’s path. Buddhists talk about it. Hindus. Christians, recovering alcoholics in AA point to it too—its one of those basic across the board spiritual truths: of how humbling leaning into the places that scare us and into our humanity, into our sense of powerless over a situation with all our cleverness and will power doesn’t work—entrance into that vulnerable Gethsemane place is the pathway to healing, wholeness, and new life. To resurrection. Christ in the garden—putting on that story as our own—is the template. “Take this cup from me. I’m afraid. I can’t do this anymore. This is more than I can bare.” When we do this, when the moment of admission happens that this cross is too heavy a load to bare, we open ourselves to someone or something new, and live from a center other than Ego. We get out of the way. The challenge of course is to allow the dreadful place, the fearful place or boring place be consecrated into spiritual pilgrimage.
And Christ said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” for they will inherit the kingdom. “Come to me all you who carry heavy loads and I will give you rest. For my load is easy and my burden light.”
St. Therese the Little Flower writes: “suppose God wishes to have you as feeble and powerless as a child? Do you think that you would be less worthy in God’s eyes? Consent to stumble, or even to fall at every step, to bear your cross feebly; love your weakness. Your soul will draw more profit from that then if, sustained by grace you vigorously performed heroic deeds which would fill your soul with self-satisfaction and pride.”
As you do this, maybe you’ll recognize this Incarnate God of ours who through out scripture calls not the mighty, not the sleek and the self-righteous, but the humble, small, and flawed. Even Peter—the rock of the church, though the cock crowed. Perhaps God needed him to fail and know humility and grace before he qualified to be a leader. Before he qualified to extending God’s love, grace, and leadership in the church and world full of other equally fallible and loved lives.
When you have failed in some way, forgo the resistance. When you are in pain, or lonely, forgo the resistance. Surrender before that grief or whatever form of suffering takes. Pick up that cross. Embrace that cross. You’ll want to escape from it rather than surrender; you don’t want to feel what you feel. And there are pseudo escapes—work, drink, ,drugs, anger, projection, suppression, doing volunteer work to the point of exhaustion—but that isn’t going to free you from pain. The pain doesn’t go away if you bury it in your unconscious. When you do that, it’s like trying to sit on a beach ball in the water [ ].. That pain flies out into your relationships and into the energy you emanate and others will still pick it up. In fact others may attract, attack, or manifest whatever unconscious pain of your inner state. And don’t let the mind use the pain to create a victim identity for yourself out of it. That will keep you stuck in suffering.
The only way out is through. So don’t turn away from the pain. Pick up your cross and follow me” says our Lord. Link Christ’s story of dying d own and rising up to your own. Live the audacity of hope, know that the hurt and pain are not an ending but a passage to risen life. May Christ’s risen life gives you comfort, courage, and assurance that you too will rise. All people will rise.
“Your pain will turn into joy,” says our Lord (John 16:20).