“…stay in the boat in which our Lord has placed you, and let the storm come. You will not perish. It appears to you that Jesus is sleeping, but let it be so. Don’t you know that if He sleeps, His heart vigilantly watches over you?” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina
“Come with me” he says. “Come follow me.” “Come deeper with me.” “Trust me.” He tells me this constantly. He comes to me in my moments of despair, in my moments of weakness, and in my moments of great joy and tells me to come with him. To go with him to that place on Calvary where he died, because he has more to show me.
Then he takes me there. I am walking through the desert with him by my side. We walk up the hill of Calvary. At the top of the hill he points to the cross. There he is. He is on the cross. He is suffering. He is in so much pain and so much hurt. He is weak and wounded. The air is filled with a deep somber sense as if the entire world has been paused.
We walk up to the foot of the cross. I am standing right at the foot of the cross. His blood is pouring down on me. I can hear him, hear him struggling for breath, crying out. I see him looking up to heaven, to his father, wishing for relief, wishing all the pain he was experiencing would be taken away and healed. But although he hopes so dearly for the pain to go away, he courageously accepts the knowledge that God’s will and God’s plan is greater than his own human desire to never experience pain. He has perfect trust in God his Father and the plan that God has for him. He embraces his cross with a strength so unknown to this world.
Then He looks at me. He looks right at me. When I dare to look back up, directly into his eyes I feel as though I can see straight into his soul and he into mine. His eyes are full of pain. I can see every part of his body is in intense pain. I have never seen so much pain in my life. But although he is in great pain, there is something else in his eyes that overtakes the pain. There is love. There is love, great love in his eyes. It is a piercing love like I have never experienced before. A love so deep and so pure. It is a love for me. A love for my husband. A love for our children. A love for each and every person who has ever existed and who ever will exist in this world. This love in His eyes is the calm in the storm.
He doesn’t say anything to me while our eyes are locked but it is as if his gaze speaks directly to my soul. I can hear his soul speaking to mine and he says “I love you. You are a daughter of God and you are so deeply loved. You have so much immense worth. I have so much planned for you and it is greater than you could ever imagine. I forgive you for all that you have done and all that you will do. There is nothing you can do that will change my love for you. There is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you. I love you. I love you exactly where you are, who you are, and no matter what you do. I will love you at every moment of every day for eternity. I want you to accept my love, to let me love you. But I want you to choose my love. I freely give my love to you at all times and through all things. I will love you if you accept my love, if you reject it, deny it, run from it, ignore it, or embrace it, because my love for you isn’t based on what you do, it is my conscious choice to love you no matter what. I love you with all that I have. I suffer for you. I rejoice for you and in you. I delight in you.”
When I feel his immense love for me I am paralyzed. I can’t move. I fall down. Fall straight on my knees with my face on the ground and my hands raised to heaven. I am overcome. Overcome with this love that I cannot understand. This love that is greater than any sin or anything in this world. This unconditional love like I have never experienced. This love that he pours down on me overtakes me. It overtakes every part of my being and fills my soul. It fills my soul with everything I could ever want and everything I could ever need. For the first time in my life I feel complete – I feel full – I feel alive – I feel like I am who I am meant to be, who I was made to be. I am so full of His love that all I want to do is give this love to others.
Then Jesus takes me up on the cross with him. He unites my suffering to his on the cross. And while I am up there I see everyone who has ever hurt me. I see them standing at the foot of the cross and I am looking down at them. Sometimes it is many people, sometimes just one person, and sometimes it is myself. Then he says to me “see them as I do. Look at them through my eyes.” He shows me how although I may be hurting, they are hurting too. He shows me how I have played a part in their suffering, pain, joy, and triumphs. It’s so humbling. He opens my eyes to see those in my life in the most incredible ways, to see how he sees them as His children who are so incredible, special, and important to the world in their own individual ways. For each one of us is a part of His body and as a part of His body has an integral role to play in the salvation of this world. But as He lets me see each person through His eyes, He also shows me how broken and hurt each one of them is. He always has me focus on my spouse in a particular way since He especially calls me to love my spouse as He loves.
He reminds me that He loves me for where I am in each moment. He shows me that although I have failed Him and hurt Him, He has never left my side. He gently reminds me that for all the times I have betrayed and hurt Him, He has forgiven me. He loves me in my imperfection and He wants me to love others in that same way. He wants me to meet those in my life where they are, for who they are, and embrace and encourage them to grow into who they were created to be because that is what He does for me. He sees who I should be, who I was created to be, and yet loves me when I fall short.
To help me love those who have hurt me, He fills me with the same love that He has them. He says to me that I am to forgive for any wrong or hurt that I have felt. And while I am up on the cross with him, all I want to do is forgive. All I want to do is pour out my love to them. All I want to do is offer up my suffering, my pain, and my love to God for their healing, their forgiveness, and their peace. All I want is to continue to pour out my love for them with all that I have forever and ever. All I want is to show them, to tell them how much I love them and to pick them up, embrace, and comfort them in their woundedness. All I want is show them how amazing they are, to show them how inspiring they are, to show them how loved they are. All I want is to take away all of their hurt, all of their pain, all of their suffering, all of their loneliness, all of their frustration, all of their confusion, all that is hurting them and all that is holding them back and replace it with love. All I want is for them to know their immense worth in the eyes of God. All I want to do is tell them how sorry I am for all the ways I have wronged them. It’s amazing how much we all fall short and wrong those in our lives. While I am up on the cross looking down at them through His eyes, all I have is compassion, forgiveness, and love for them.
And while I am on the cross looking down with the same love for them in my heart that Christ has for me and my suffering united to his for the greater glory of God, He urges me to say these words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I have been transformed by love and as a result my love has been transformed.
I heard a new word the other day: metanioa. It means a transformation, a change, in your way of life as a result of penitence or spiritual conversion. It originated from the Greek word metanoein which means to change one’s mind. As I look back at the last year of my life where I have studied, prayed, and contemplated what it means to love – to truly love – the way God calls us to love as Christians I have seen my thoughts, my actions, my whole life be transformed. I am changed and I can never go back to who I once was. This year I realized one thing that changed me forever – love is not about me.
I always knew love was selfless. I had heard and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 so many times. I knew the words – “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Although I knew the words, I didn’t live them fully.
Love is not about me. How easy is it to look at your spouse and silently as yourself the question – what do they do for me? How do they make me feel? Do they treat me the way I deserve? But love, selfless love, is not about what your spouse does for you – it is about what you do for them. It is about how you lay yourself down for the other. It is about how you give yourself, all that you are, as a gift to your spouse. This love is about the gift of yourself and your love.
As I sat contemplating the cross in a moment of darkness a year ago I saw love in Christ in a way I had never seen it before. Love so perfect because it is freely given without asking for anything in return. Jesus suffered and died for me and in doing so gave himself as the perfect gift for me out of love. He knew I would reject him. He knew I would fail him. He knew every sin and every mistake I would make but yet chose to give himself, all of himself, up for me as a gift. How humbling.
So often we see the picture of love as roses, laughter, joy, and happiness. The world tells us to look for a fairy tale version of love – a happily ever after – as if love is easy or comes without challenges. Where in our culture do we see the picture of a love like that on the cross? A suffering love. Is a suffering love really any less love than one filled with joy? I would argue not.
It is in a suffering love like that of the cross, that love is perfected. It is in this kind of love that the illusions are torn away. When love is suffering, it is like a stone in the ocean. The currents of pain and suffering roll over the stone taking away the rough edges and creating a smooth stone. It is moved, it is changed. Love through suffering does the same. It takes all our sinfulness, our pride, and our misconceptions and removes them from the core, leaving only love. When you learn to love through the suffering and your misconceptions of love are taken away, you are able to see love for what it truly is – a sacrifice, a gift, an outpouring of grace and mercy.
A suffering love is joyful because it rejoices in the gift it gives without looking for anything in return. A suffering love finds its peace in the quiet, constant stream of love it extends. Love requires sacrifice. It requires laying down your life. Too often we hear that laying down your life is sad – it is not. When you willingly choose to lay yourself down for another, there is no greater joy in the world because this laying down of yourself for another is the same kind of love that Jesus modeled for us on the cross – His perfect example of love.
As the circumstances of my life and my love have changed with time and I have experienced times of suffering love, I have been transformed. I have come to a new understanding of what it means to love and seen a new side of love I never knew existed before. The trials and challenges of life change us – metanioa.