Today we celebrate the central image of our faith, the cross. This stark means of torture reminds us we all will suffer and we all will die. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (1) In dying we live. Most anything would be more palatable. Nothing is so essential. Jesus’ death on the cross saves us. We must die, surrender, daily in order to live.
When I first served as a hospital chaplain, the cross became more real and meaningful as I listened to much heartache. I realized that Jesus was listening to the same heartache but not for a few minutes and not for just a few people. Jesus knows everyone and listens to everyone’s heart, to everyone in the hospital, to everyone around the world in all kinds of suffering. Jesus draws the whole world to himself with a loving ear in a listening embrace.
Such magnitude and such intimacy! Jesus invites you and me to share our hearts, what weighs us down, our grief and questions, our wounds and concerns. Jesus listens directly and in the flesh through other people. Jesus, exposed and vulnerable on the cross, invites us to expose ourselves, share our inner life and struggles, pray in the dark, pray our hearts.
Telling our stories can be painful, like touching wounds, a kind of death, but this is how we heal. We like to edit, restrict, categorize or deny our lives. Good listeners help by attending to our stories with their emotional surprises, seeming contradictions and scattered pieces. Good listeners help us hear how these scattered pieces come together to form us.
Letting ourselves be seen, letting our stories be witnessed by another person actually changes our internal chemistry. Being listened to literally helps our bodies heal. By the cross, Jesus heals and saves. Love listens.
Look up at the cross. Everything hangs, everyone is held here. On the cross, Jesus hears all. Jesus listens to the crying in Liberia and Iraq. Jesus listens to people lost and lonely, grappling and grieving, troubled and terrorized, wounded and dying. Jesus listens to all the heartache, all the questions, everything for everyone. The cross bears the weight of the world.
Look up at the cross. What draws you to Jesus today? What is heavy on your heart? What pain or trouble do you bear? What secret is eating away at you or what story needs telling? Nothing is too awful or messy or trivial or weighty. Nothing.
Here a few suggestions for praying your heart, how to look up at the cross today.
First, pray with a crucifix or an image of the cross. Gaze at Jesus, his agony, his wounds, his love. Listen for what he says to you. Surrender by speaking your pain to the one who bore and bears all pain. Pray to the crucified Christ. Listen for his response.
Second, pray as Jesus did. Jesus cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” By itself this is only bitter grief. Yet it is the first line of Psalm 22, which surely Jesus knew. Psalm 22, like other psalms of lament, goes back and forth from trouble to trust: “[Why] are you so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? … I cry in the daytime but you do not answer, by night as well, but I find no rest. Yet you are the Holy One, enthroned upon the praises of Israel. Our forebears put their trust in you; they trusted, and you delivered them.” (2)
Pray Psalm 22 or use it as a model. Be specific about your pain and your present situation. Cry. Question. Grieve. Then pause to remember the past. What’s your experience of God? When have you received love? Cling to past provision as hope even amid today’s desolation. Pray the tension of present pain and trust God’s future informed by past provision.
Third, pray to Jesus with skin. Find a safe, trustworthy person and share what’s on your heart. Take a risk by telling your story honestly. Speak up to share. Let another witness your inner life. Surrender by praying your life, sharing your story honestly. Let Jesus listen to you in the flesh with a safe person.
Love listens. We need not be a priest or therapist. All of us were created to listen. While we can learn and improve skills, all can help heal by listening. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love by listening. “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim.” Listen.
- John 12:24
- Psalm 22:2-4
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