I know the Easter story. I’ve heard the sermons. I’ve watched The Passion. I’ve seen the plays. I thought I “got it”. But God totally rocked my resurrection world and busted up my Easter complacency today. Can I tell you how?
First, A Quick Backstory
Ten years ago this May, my son was stillborn in the second trimester.
His lifeless body was abruptly born at my parent’s home while we were visiting. Since we were away from home in a different state, I could not see my regular doctor. So my husband took me to the local ER.
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was to leave that hospital without my baby’s body.
On the way out, my husband and I stopped at the hospital’s garden where they scattered the ashes of infant remains. (I was not allowed to have his ashes or his body back.)
It was overcast and through the sound of distant thunder, I felt God whisper, “I am with you.”
Those were the last words I sensed from God for a very long time.
Abandoned (But Not Really)
I lived with untreated depression for the next five years because I mistakenly thought that Christians were only supposed to pray their way out of depression and anxiety.
My depression was my personal dark secret hidden under a friendly smile and a busy life.
I felt God had snatched away my baby and then abandoned me. My devastation rocked my faith to its core. I have never felt more alone.
There was a painful rift in my relationship with God. I decided He was no longer safe to trust. I was angry and distant and I wrongly assumed that He was too.
A Short Recap of My Slow Recovery
After spending five years suffering quietly alone, I spent the next five years seeking God, getting help, and climbing out of the dark pit I had slid into.
Ten years later, my relationship with God is stronger than before and not based on life being easy or things going my way or God responding to me as I think He should. (I’ll save that part of the story for my book. 🙂 )
Not that I’ve given you the setup, I’ll tell you how God showed up this morning.
So There I Was . . .
Today in my Bible study group, we examined Jesus’ final hours on the cross by first discussing the Scripture and then listening to our teaching leader expound upon the passage.
Jesus’ desperate plea to His Holy Father gets me every time.
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
I know what it’s like to feel abandoned by God. I too have hung heavy in my darkest moments crying out, “Why, God?”
But the difference is: I was never really alone–not for an instant. Jesus didn’t just feel abandoned. He actually was. As Christ bore the weight of my sin, my Holy God was compelled to look away. For the only time in all Eternity, there was a rift of fellowship within the sacred Trinity.
And then, my teaching leader said this:
“Christ was forsaken so you never have to be.”
Tears stung my eyes immediately. God’s tender love broke through my scarred and calloused heart.
In all those dark and miserable nights I laid awake unable to find peace or rest, God never left my side. Every time I pouted and fussed at His absence, He was so very near. I was simply deaf to His still small voice.
I don’t even have the slightest clue of what it’s like to be truly forsaken by God.
My darkest places are pretty well-lit compared to the darkness Christ suffered on my behalf. I know nothing of what real spiritual darkness is. The Light of the World has always been near whether I sensed His presence or not.
God used a single sentence spoken by a friend to crack open a cold place in my heart so the warmth of His love could come flooding in.
I was able to pull myself together by the end of teaching time, but my notes are stained with tears. On the way home, I heard Casting Crowns new song, O My Soul, for the first time. This tender song has the same message, causing the waterworks to start flowing again. (Watch the inspiring video below.)
So by the time I got home, I was a hot mess. I tried to get it together in the bathroom so my children wouldn’t catch me crying. (How could I explain?) But I couldn’t do it. (Have you ever tried to fix your eyeliner while you’re still crying? Don’t bother. It’s futile.)
I wondered why I was grieving my son’s death so hard today. I thought that I had made peace with all of that. Then it hit me.
I was grieving for God’s Son more than my own son.
The price of Resurrection Sunday suddenly slammed into me with a punch I could not duck. I have celebrated the joyful victory of Easter for as long as I can remember. I thought I knew the story and embraced the truths and lived the message.
But now, I feel it deep in my gut with a force and a passion I cannot describe.
I am grieving for all that Jesus endured for me.
No . . . He went far beyond “enduring”. He carried this heavy load of horror with dignity, grace, and compassion, fully trusting the love of His Father in every. single. agonizing. step.
As our Bible study leader prayed before she spoke that women who heard her lesson today would embrace the message of the cross, I nodded in silent agreement, “Yes, Lord. Let those ladies who don’t yet know you receive your love for them.”
I had prayed so earnestly for “those ladies” when the whole time, God had a prepared a personal message meant for me. For me! I cannot get over this.
Of course, I know that many others were touched as well, but this was one of those precious sacred moments when you know God is looking right at you and the rest of the crowd disappears.
My faith is rocked hard again but in a completely different direction. I will never be the same–in a wonderful way. Sorrow and love mingle together at the cross. What a sweet and poignant fragrance they create together!
Because my Heavenly Father separated Himself from His Son, I will never have to be permanently separated from my son, even in death. I can grieve with hope! More than that, I will never have to be separated from God!
God exposed my Easter complacency today. He reminded me to be humble by willingly and publicly humiliating Himself.
As He hung naked and full of love on a cruel cross, He revealed that my little “fig leaves” of righteousness are wholly inadequate to cover my true shame. Jesus alone is perfect. He alone is worthy of glory. Yet I get credit for His sinless life. I am undone.
I witness His self-sacrificing compassion for all people, His unwavering commitment to truth, and His unflinching obedience to His Father and I am in awe at what true divinity looks like. I know I can never live up to that standard.
We get to take credit for all His holy perfection because He was willing to take credit for our crimes against God!
I know. I know! We’ve heard this before. It is the cornerstone of our faith. But today I really heard it in a whole new way.
I am compelled to share my experience in the hopes that you too may be willing to lay aside your fig leaves of complacency and accept the glorious robe of righteousness that Jesus is offering you.
Will you receive it? Will you pray this with me?
Oh Jesus! What can I say? “Thank you” is such a pitiful speck to offer in return for all you’ve done. Such a rich love as yours demands my whole being, my whole life, all I have. Forgive me for being complacent, for failing to consider what my negative thoughts, careless words, and selfish actions cost you. I acknowledge that you lived blameless among us while I have missed the mark and fallen short of God’s glory. It is inconceivable to me that you want to trade your life for mine. Yet, there you are . . . beaten, bloodied, and naked on the cross separated from your Father so that I, a miserable wretch, may stride boldly before God’s great throne of grace and receive mercy.
Let me never get over this. May I never take it for granted again. Amen.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them [whatever comes against you], for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.