I’ve been trying to sit with Christ in the desert as St. Ignatius suggests. I can’t manage to stay with him for long. I’m uncomfortable. I’m hot. I’m thirsty. And, worst of all, I really just can’t stand to see him suffering. I want out. I’m ready to skip right ahead to the Resurrection.
My Ignatian contemplation is hitting too close to home this year. When my mother passed in September of 2015, we brought my father to our home as he, too, was terminally ill. We cared for him until this past December when he passed. I have never endured a more difficult time. I was mourning my mother and watching my father deteriorate too. It was excruciatingly painful for me to sit with him in his agony as he mourned the loss of his wife, home, independence, and entire way of life. I watched as he grew more and more frail, his mind ever more ravaged by disease. At the same time, the details of his care were mind-numbingly exhausting. I can’t count the number of times I cried out to God for help during those long months. Matt Maher’s song, “Lord, I Need You,” became my anthem. We lived Lent and Holy Week.
My experience of not being able to sit with Christ reminds me that there are commonalities we all face as we accompany the suffering Christ-among-us. We may share in the suffering of a loved one who is ill, a mother who struggles to feed and clothe her little ones, a refugee who has been bombed out of home and nation, indeed, any person who is suffering and marginalized. When we accompany Christ in those who are suffering, we may find it to be:
- Uncomfortable. It’s difficult to sit there with Christ when he’s suffering. Biblical scholars often note that most of Jesus’ disciples fled in fear before he was crucified. Chances are, it was also too painful for them to watch this man that they loved suffering.
- Lonely. When we accompany Christ in the desert, we share in his desolation. We experience that which caused Jesus, in his humanity, to cry out on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
- Messy. Those tears of blood at Gethsemane and his Death on the Cross? Not a neat and tidy time. There’s no romanticizing it—suffering is real, it’s gritty, and it stinks.
- Disorienting. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. He was their everything. How painful and disappointing it must have been for them thinking that the end of their journey with Jesus was Death on a Cross! As they observed his suffering, it’s likely they wondered the same thing we often find ourselves asking: “Why is God allowing this? Why doesn’t God do something?”
While it may feel impossibly difficult to accompany the suffering Christ-among-us, when we do remain with him, we are also brought to a realization that it is worth it. Fortunately for us, we know the ending of the story. We know that the Cross is not the end, but rather, an essential component needed to reach the end God has in store for humanity: forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life in God’s unfathomable love. When we suffer with Christ, we stand with the One who holds the key to that love.
There is no better time than the Lents and Holy Weeks of our lives to say, “Lord, I need you.” And there is no better time to remember that when we suffer, or when we accompany those who suffer, we are never alone. We go with Christ, who is present with us. As Pope Francis puts it, “Sometimes in our lives tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
Through these lenses, we are able to focus anew on the Risen Christ calling out to us, reminding us that death is not the end note. Lent always ends in Easter. Christ has conquered death. Easter always comes.