Sometimes, life is unbearable.
In the midst of illness, everyday tasks of survival can be an overwhelming struggle. In the midst of pain, both thought and breath have cutting edges of sharp immediacy. The suffering of human life is a difficult burden, sometimes seemingly impossible to carry — the body weak and exhausted, the mind desperate and despairing. Sometimes life seems pointless or cruel. Suffering can make life awful and even undesirable.
The heavy instrument of His death, which was strapped to His back, crashed down on Him with each fall, crushing His chest to knock the air out of His lungs. Smashed flat on His face, hard on the rocky pavement, the thorns that encircled His head stabbed into the tender flesh of His ear and eyelid. Jesus gasped and cried out in agony. The beam across His shoulders pressed mercilessly into His flailed skin, the deep gouges and bloody tears of flesh piercing, burning, ripping anew with exquisite and mind-exploding pain. How could He go on? After hours and hours of torture, shackled, dragged, beaten, scourged, beaten and tortured some more, He was now forced to march to His death. Why? Why are human beings so cruel? And why is the human body capable of being so terribly and horribly inflamed with pain?
I fall on my face with Jesus, kicked repeatedly upon the ground by my affliction, each blow finding new places of torment, each moment seized with anguish. The miseries of a day, mind or body wracked with suffering, find me carrying the burden of the Cross with Christ, who fell again and again beneath the weight of love.
Only love could inspire the All-Powerful to become so weak and pitiful beside me, wincing with every biting torture that He and I experience, sweating and sobbing with me for relief to come, doubled over and horrified again when the suffering only gets worse.
How did He go on? Why did He go on? When the sufferer is God Incarnate, why does He not stop His suffering? With a wave of His hand, why does He not choose to bring the whole horrific misery to an end?
Why? Because I can’t.
I can’t stop my own pain. So Christ, loving me inexorably, chose not to stop His, so that He is with me always.
I am limited. I live my life in an imperfect place, a world fallen from grace beneath the lures of pride and greed, where nobody can see clearly, so we grope and shove and fall even further down.
Down in the murky sludge, I might forget the place from which I have come, the pure flower that bore me forth as a living soul, fragrant and light and made for a celestial home. I may forget that this soul of mine exists within the divine creation of my body and that my body, like my life, is a rich and sumptuous gift. I may forget that my soul and my body unite in one unique person, me, so that the fruit that is my particular humanity may hang with heavy beauty upon the tree of life, ripe with love and possibility. Though I slip and crash upon the ground, tread underfoot, holes rotting through my flesh, the seeds of my eternity will taste no corruption. Christ, the Word of God made flesh, holds them in His Sacred Heart, which, though it beats with the agony of this fallen place, though it is pierced through and torn open by the fallen, never forgets, never loses sight, never succumbs to the despair that is felt when lying crushed upon the bloody ground.
He will rise up. I will rise up. We will rise up together.
Though we collapse again and again, we will rise. We will rise and rise until our nature becomes the act of rising — painful, exhausting, overwhelming, but rising. And then, when rising is perfected within us, we will soar.
Jesus ascended into glory far above and beyond this fallen world, but He does not leave me behind. He lovingly carries me within the wounds given to Him in this place, the wounds upon His body where my own wounded body finds compassion, rest, and the way home.
The hardness of this place, this human life, breaks the glistening red and gold of the fruit that we are, miraculously yielding the sacred sweetness within us. Some won’t allow it. Some will merely break and crumble, wasting away, lost in the torments of the place. But some will rise.
I will lift my eyes above the murkiness to see the face of my God streaked with blood, with tears, with mud, and with love. I will bare my soul to Him and allow Him to love me. With His strength, I will rise and look around at the beautiful faces, the loving hands reaching out. I will see the terrible beauty of a world often ignorant of its own sacred radiance, an unknowing world shining bright and resplendent with other living souls rising within. The gift of this place . . . the gift of this place is breathtaking. This place, this life is how we come to know love — bodily, gritty, biting, catching, piercing love. It will knock the breath out of you, it will bring you to your knees, it will spear right through you. And it will raise you up.
Here is the exquisite bliss and sublime majesty of love.
Art for this post on Suffering: Cover and featured image used with permission.