This is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the meaning of His life and death, to become aware of what it means to each of us. There are spiritual lessons which can impact our lives deeply.
During a 10-day spiritual direction retreat taught by a Catholic priest and nun, I received one of the most profound experiences of my life.
We contemplated the relationship between Jesus the Son, and God the Father. Just before the moment of His release into death on the cross, Jesus was heard to say, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” The experience of being forsaken, abandoned, alone in our pain, was known even to the one favored and beloved by God. Strangely, there was comfort in that for me, because I was certain that God never ceased to love Christ. For me, the greatest torment is feeling alone and unloved. When painful things occur in life, it is easy to feel abandoned, and doubt God’s love.
There is comfort in knowing that even this holy individual suffered, teaching us that suffering is a part of life to be endured. The resurrection of Jesus - His Easter - shows us that we can all rise from pain.
Out of suffering, new life is born. Seeing with a spiritual eye, transformation can happen. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, facing it with great courage, and He faced it alone. Knowing death was approaching, He went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, feeling sorrowful and deeply troubled. He asked one thing of His disciples -- that they keep watch with Him while he prayed.
He fell to the ground and begged God to take this cup of suffering from his lips, “but not as I will but as you will.” He surrendered his will to God’s. And when he turned to his disciples, they were sound asleep. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” He was betrayed by those closest to him.
We have all had times when we felt betrayed by those closest to us, left alone to face our suffering. It takes deep courage to turn to God and surrender to His will in times like that.
I had a profound vision at the retreat. I suddenly found myself on the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus carried His cross. I saw him standing by a pillar, blood dripping down His face from the crown of thorns. He looked deep into my eyes and said, “The presence or absence of pain is no indication of the presence or absence of the love of God.”
I can see that vision so clearly, even now, many years later. This was a turning point in my life, helping me to accept pain, suffering and loneliness along with love and companionship as part of life and “no indication” that I am unloved.
When my brother John was close to death, the pain from his brain tumor became excruciating, and no amount of medication stopped it. I was beside myself.
My brother asked me what was wrong, and then told me to take Vitamin T – Trust. I said, “John it’s hard for me to trust God when you are in such pain.” “What makes it hard, Lin?” he asked.
“It feels like God is forsaking you.” Then he said something I will never forget:
“But it’s not true. Even in the pain, I can feel the hand of God.”
How would our lives and our suffering be different if we sacrificed our belief that we are alone and unloved, gave up feeling like victims, embraced the pain, and took to heart, one of Jesus’s last prayers:
“Thy will, not mine, be done.”