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.
Thanks for sharing such unfiltered set of emotions with us. We all go through so much trials and tribulations and we simply cannot be too positive at all times. I think it’s our struggles and our ability to bounce back that makes us whole and only through Jesus can we be truly made whole 🙂
Beautiful and meaningful its difficult to see light in the dark ,but you have maid a journey through this darkness and harsh life of the desert your message gives hope and comfort and build my Faith in Christ who walked this way for all for I know I am not alone and so I walk along with my brothers and sister who make this journey everyday. My prayers for you .
A beautiful reflection. I was my mom’s caretaker thru Alzheimer’s for 20 years. It is agony. This Lent i have been triggered to relive it all. Like you, i am in pain and broken. So sorry for your losses. Having trouble finding Jesus in all of it. Your reflection touched my heart. Thank you
Thank you for sharing your story. The first paragraph speaks volumes to what is currently happing in our world with the COVID-19. But like Sister replied, his year Jesus picked the desert for us. We must remain faithful and strong to preserve and trust in his promise.
This is a wonderfully written piece. I lost my father three weeks ago. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the last couple of years, and he lived a good life, it it was hard to see him go. I also have a dear friend who is in his army 50s and has been battling stage four cancer for the last 2+ years. It has now taken an even graver turn. It is hard of this to make sense. Your piece is comforting. I am hoping that I have the strength to not abandon him in the Garden. May you have a fulfilling Holy Week and a blessed, joyous Eastetr
My friend is in his early 50s. Sorry. Numerous typos
Thank you, Rebecca, for this beautiful reflection. Oftentimes I have picked my own desert in Lent, my own fastings and prayers. This year Jesus picked the desert for me. I am still teaching and caring for my best friend with dementia. After the caretakers leave, I am often alone and unable to leave to go on errands, etc. unless I find someone to be with her. This desert is not to my liking…..but there are the Veronica’s and John’s who step in to help me along the way.
Prayers coming for you.
Sr. Carole MacKenthun, RSM
Thank you, this was a beautiful article. I lost my father in law, my mother and my husband all within a year and three months time, and I was the primary caregiver for all three. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement. It has been four years now, and I still struggle immensely in prayer. I try, but there just isn’t anything there. Sometimes I feel like I was so emotional for so long, and praying with what seemed no response all that time, that my mind just can’t seem to get anywhere. I’m continuing though in spite of it all because of perseverance. Will pray for your grief to lessen.
I am so sorry to hear of your tremendous losses. It is completely understandable that you might feel dryness in your spiritual life and it’s so admirable that you are persevering in prayer. I do hope you have a trusted person with whom you can talk about your losses too.
Years ago, I had a spiritual director who recommended that, when I feel like I’m unable to pray or to “get anything out of prayer,” to simply rest in Jesus’ presence – using the Ignatian method of imaginative prayer, to envision myself there with Jesus and rest, cry, talk, and then rest some more. I still find his advice to be exceptionally helpful. There is a great worship song along the same lines that I also find really helpful -“Draw Me Close to You” –
I will pray that you will feel the warmth of Jesus’ love and healing embrace. Thank you so much for your prayers too.
Beautiful post, thanks so much Rebecca, my mother suffers from depression since my parent’s divorce and sometimes i don’t know how to help her, but your post inspire me to continue to have the patience and love to help her every day, please pray for us! Also count with my prayers too!
I’m sorry to hear about your mother. I will pray for her and you – that her depression lifts and that you both feel the warmth of God’s healing love enveloping you this joyous Easter season!
I can understand why the disciples were unable to stay and watch Christ go through the agonies of His last hours. When I read your piece this morning, I wondered if so could have stood with Jesus and endured the torments of witnessing what He was enduring for me and humankind. If I am honest, I would have wanted to run away also.
Yes, I think learning to place ourselves there in the Gospel passages with Jesus is one of the greatest blessings of Ignatian contemplation. It really encourages us to “live” the Gospel as if we were right there with Jesus. And, the reactions we find arising deep within ourselves through this type of contemplation are quite revealing. It’s such a blessing.
Thanks for sharing those heart rending memories with us. I will pray for you and all those suffering as they struggle to care for a loved one. The important message comes at the end of your piece: Lent always ends in Easter. After His baptism Jesus went into the desert for forty days and nights where He was tormented by the devil, yet He came out to bring the good news that God loves each and every one of us, warts and all. The world did not come to an end on Good Friday – although the disciples probably thought that it had! Easter Sunday and Jesus’Resurrection followed. Our hope is that resurrection into God’s eternal loving arms awaits us all. God bless you.
Thank you for your comment and prayers. Yes, when we are suffering and going through difficult times I find it so comforting to remember that the Risen Christ is there with us too. I can’t imagine suffering without the hope and solace of the Resurrection.
Thank you, Nancy.
Thank you it was if someone wrote about me. I never really listen to the radio or go to You Tube,;however I did pray a lot for I was left in an empty home no one else but Our Lord Jesus.
Hi Natalia, Yes, I have found that when we start sharing about our journeys, it’s amazing how much we can relate to others. I hope you find solace in Matt Maher’s song, “Lord, I need you” and in community. Prayers for you.
Timing is God’s work! I am experiencing and learning Christ is the one’s before me today or that interrupted my prayer time and plans. Being held in my pain and holdinding others in their pain is today holding and being held by Christ.
Yes, timing is all in God’s hands…”not in our time but in God’s time.” When we serve others and are served ourselves we are the face of Christ to each other! Prayers for you.
This writing brings me to a new place. Giving, receiving, waiting, living with compassion. Ebb and flow.
This past year has been an avalanche of life changes, and for me, an unexpected response of emptiness and newness. Dry desert and small springs. Over and over again. Watching for God in all things; in faith knowing that God is hidden in plain sight.
I have had experiences of being God’s hands and heart to others in need. And also, of being the desperately needy one who had nothing more to give. Compassion: we seek to give it…we need to be willing to receive it…and as I’m learning, I need to extend it to myself. One week I soldiered on, trying to serve another in need and instead found a deep place of desperateness within myself. That was a time I should have been compassionate to myself and backed off for awhile to be alone with God. We can’t give what we don’t have. Our breathing is out AND in. Being open to God’s gentle leading is crucial.
Yes, your words on compassion are so very true. It’s hard to be on the receiving end of help! I too find it a challenge to slow down and be open to receiving that compassion from others and self. In fact, I’m trying to focus on this in prayer too. Prayers for you.
I am so glad that I pulled this article up today. The thoughts and feelings expressed in it have hit home and, even though it is not my father, I am my wife’s caretaker. Have been for quite a few years. And at time it does get so difficult that I too ask “where are you God??” It is a desert. It is lonely, difficult, time consuming, and frustrating. I am thankful for small snippets of time. But, knowing that I am doing what Jesus wants me to do is my greatest satisfaction. As I reach out to Him once more for help with my little cross.
Hi Luis, Your dedication to your wife is admirable. Christ walks with you. Sometimes, His messages of support come through others who are on similar caretaking journeys – I do hope you have the support of other caretakers with whom you can talk and vent and find solid support. I found that to be so crucial in my caretaking journey with my parents. My prayers for you and your wife.