Friday, March 22, 2013

When the Cross is Done Crushing You

Holy Week is right around the corner, and I'm trying to not let that fact make me nervous. Just because God has pulled major, life-changing surprises on me during Holy Week two years in a row doesn't mean He'll do it again. Or rather, if He does, I trust that I will be more ready to roll with it. At least that's what I'd like to believe.

Life has had a feel to it something like a huge cacophony similar to the gaudiest section of the 1812 Overture, when everything is grinding and crashing. But now it resolves to one single, strong note that just sounds and resounds, giving the sense that it has been there the whole time, behind the cacophony. It resounds so certainly that it makes one sure it will turn into a chord and a new melody. Just hasn't, yet.

The image I had about a year ago was that God had been busy building in my life, and that with all the construction had come a significant bit of mess, too. His biggest concern was that I would see His work as His work, and in order to do that, the junk had to be cleared out. He did not ask me to clean it. He asked if I would let Him clean it. You know how kids can get really attached to things that are essentially scraps, junk, not the work of art? I needed lots of reordering, but I think equally I needed God to say this, that, and that are my works of art. They stay. I could be as equally prone to throwing out His work as to getting attached to a box of sawdust as a prized possession.

It seems very clear to me now that God has tested me in three ways: in relationship to Him, in relationship to other people, and in relationship to myself. And it has been no minor testing. It has been rigorous, vigorous testing not once but again and again. I have come to be deeply convinced of God's nature as pure love. There was a post I wrote awhile back where I was meditating on Jesus on the cross. I remember well that all I could feel at the time was an all-consuming sense of painful disorientation. I identified very well with the disciples who ran away, or with John who stood there, his heart probably numb, his head reeling, no understanding, no comprehension at all. As I faced the cross at that moment, that was exactly what I experienced. Total painful bewilderment.

During these tests I've had lots of moments like that one. The Lord kept telling me then that the cross extended to me like that was a sign of His love. This cross crushes you, slowly. But somehow, mysteriously, it does reveal His love. When praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, I used to always admit to the Lord, "I cannot comprehend your love at all." But now that I have experienced this little bit of suffering this way, this little bit of the cross in this way, when I say to myself, "Jesus, you chose to suffer for me because you love me," I can have a little piece of comprehension. Just a little. And that little bit proves to me that God's only motivation towards us is His love and mercy. Every other thought we have about how and why God interacts with us is a lie and a deception. The Lord Jesus is all love. He has taught me this by allowing me to stand by His side, meditate in a sharing way on his Passion, and experience just a pin-prick drop of it myself. It's powerful, terrifying stuff.
He has also made it clear to me that His presence in my life is real. I can only really know the truth of who I am by knowing Him. Conversely, knowing Him requires me to accept the truth about myself and to act accordingly. Relationship with God gives my life its integrity. I cannot trample my own dignity underfoot and still be in right relationship with God. But neither do I need others to agree with me, understand me, like me or even notice me in order to have my dignity and integrity in place.

However, my life is not complete, nor is my love for God complete if I do not love the people around me, even the ones who don't particularly like me back. Sometimes love requires me to say hard truths, or make demands of others. It always requires me giving of myself (again, regardless of whether this is liked, understood, or even noticed). Love for others isn't about me and the pleasure or benefit I get out of loving. Love for others is about love for God. My prayer of late is that I offer my humanity to the Lord Jesus for His love to flow through me to others in the He wants to love. It is too easy for my love to become selfish possession. But God's love says "I want to give all to you. Even when you reject Me."

The proper human response to this kind of love: worship. Lord God, I give you my all in return. For years now, I have been gnawing on this concept of what it actually means to teach people to worship. This is what it is: to teach people to embrace the cross, to know God Who is love, and to have their self-love and their love for other people purified by the cross. And then to respond to the Love that is poured out to, in and through us, with all that we are and have.

In the midst of all that is the entire meaning of my life.

And since I'm still alive, I know I'm not done growing and learning and experiencing the cross. Who knows what this Holy Week will have in store. I know God only does good things. And as long as He continues to draw me to Himself and love through me, I know happiness is mine.

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