Lately, I’ve been stuck. I’ve been stuck with a particular cross that will just not go away. I know it will pass, and I’m learning to love my particular burden. As the cross weighs down, I have learned to carry the weight.But every once in a while, when I least expect it, a splinter pokes me in juuuuuuust the right spot.
Because of those little pesky splinters, this cross is driving me absolutely bonkers. Most days, I barely notice the weight, but those splinters jab me, prod me, remind me of how heavy this cross actually is. The Lord (in His infinite wisdom, infinite love, and infinite will to drive me crazy and consequently into becoming the best version of myself) is not taking it away, no matter how much I grumble, beg, and otherwise pray.
As I was discussing crosses with my dear friend, my friend with the heavy, heavy cross of a diagnosis of the rare neurological disorder, it’s not the cross that’s bothersome. It’s those pesky splinters!
As she said, “I’m learning how to love my cross. The cross itself is easy. It’s the unplanned splinters that really get me. I didn’t account for those.”
Splinters are the worst part of the cross. They’re unplanned, painful, get under our skin in juuuuuuust the right sensitive spot, and sometimes take a while to remove because they’re so deeply buried. The cross isn’t hard; it’s those pesky splinters.
Crosses in our lives are horrible but wonderful opportunities to grow in faith. With every cross comes an opportunity for virtue. For every cross of sinking into a lazy routine comes the opportunity for obedience and devotion. For every cross of the temptation to build up our storehouses of goods on earth comes the opportunity for generosity and moderation. For every cross of losing our temper inappropriately comes the opportunity for patience and compassion. For every cross of other people receiving praises we desire comes the opportunity for humility and kindness.
Even our particular state in life can be our cross! For every cross of singleness comes the opportunity for trust in God’s timing and finding freedom in unconditionally loving and serving others. For every cross of married life with ongoing conflict comes the opportunity for kindness, understanding, and showing unconditional love. For every cross of infertility comes the opportunity for trust in God’s timing, surrender of our ideas of family, and opportunities for unconditional love. For every cross of overabundant fertility comes the opportunity for trust, surrender, patience, and whole plethora of virtues (on a lack of sleep!). For every cross of being an empty nester comes the opportunity for embracing loneliness and further understanding Jesus’s pain on the cross.
Crosses are burdens but good for us. They are opportunities for us to humble ourselves, fall, and most importantly, allows us to realize our innate dependence when we require help carrying our cross. Even Jesus had help carrying His cross! Surely, He does not mean for us to carry our crosses alone.
Eventually, we fall, lay ourselves down at His feet, and come to a new understanding of the words:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
And somehow, once we have opened ourselves up to grace, we find that cross is easier to bear. We’re stronger than we ever thought we could be! We’re more faithful than we ever thought we could be! God is so good!
And then, if you’re anything like me, juuuuuuust when you think you’ve gotten good at carrying that cross, one of those pesky splinters gets you in juuuuuuust the right sensitive spot. You think, What the what, God! This cross is heavy. Didn’t you say it’d be light!? Didn’t you say your yoke is easy!? This is difficult, God! What’s going on!? Am I doing something wrong!? Are YOU doing something wrong!? Why is this so hard!?
I’m not God, but what’s going on is probably this: you’ve got more to learn from this cross, honey.
I know from my personal cross at the moment, my challenge is to learn dependence. As a strong, independent, and stubborn woman, I’m not particularly fond of dependence. I really like to think I can do everything on my own, which is most definitely false.
I’m much like my nephew Sweet Pea, a headstrong 2-year-old who runs around like a madman, does his own thing, fails epically, and then comes crying to his loving parents. Comparatively, his little brother Baby Pie, an easy-going 6-month old, is much naturally better at dependence.
I’m basically a spiritual toddler. If I were a spiritual infant, I’d find dependence on God easy and natural. But I don’t. I run around, do my own thing, fail epically, and come crying to God. I’m sure God is just thinking, “Can’t she just let me take care of her?” Nope. You’ve given me legs, Lord, so I want to run around!
As I’ve been trying to mentally convince myself of the benefits of dependence, reading great spiritual books such as I Believe in Love, With Open Hands, and Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence, I’ve been stuck on two Bible passages:
- “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
- “…it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” –John 9:3
Power made perfect in weakness? It just keeps coming up everywhere right now. But I just don’t understand God’s logic. How does surrender lead to power? Last time I read a history book, surrender meant a new king takes over your kingdom, and that never leads to good things.
But what if I surrendered to a good King, a King who only wants my joy, my wellbeing, and my happiness? What if I surrendered to Someone who loves me more than I could ever love even myself? Would that be so horrible a surrender?
That is precisely the surrender Jesus desires from us. It’s the surrender a parent wants from their madman 2-year-old, to give up that playing with the blocks he loves so much to come eat dinner, to give up running around so she can be carried, to give up something so we can receive something better and be provided for.
Those pesky splinters is what St. Paul was talking about the passage about power made perfect in weakness. St. Paul is writing about a spiritual struggle, a cross of some kind after much spiritual growth when he writes:
Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
If only I had a taste of his faith! St. Paul begged 3 times. I can’t even put a number on how many times I’ve begged.
But what’s this thorn in the flesh St. Paul is talking about? A splinter! He uses the Greek word skólops, which translates to a “sharp splinter” or even “a pointed stake.” Though it typically means thorn, it can mean anything pointed, including a splinter!
So, the splinter remains, all so the Lord can work within me.
But doesn’t God want my joy? Why can’t I become too elated!? Yes, but God loves us too much to let us be inordinately proud of our accomplishments. It’s appropriate to be proud of our talents and use them in service of the Lord, but when we take too much credit for all the blessings in our lives, God likes to give us a little taste of humble pie. Sure, I can do X, Y, and Z, but I can’t get rid of this pesky splinter! OK, OK, God. I got it. You’re God. I’m not. I learned my lesson. Can you get rid of this cross now!?
But God loves us too much to get rid of some of our cross so easily and quickly, though we must trust know He can when He desires to. It can be such a long wait that sometimes we can get to the point of despair and think we are doing something wrong when we’re laboring so hard and we keep getting poked and poked in juuuuuuust the right places.
Maybe if we’re single, it’s needing to go to another wedding alone or endure another holiday with family kindly offering bad advice about how to meet someone. Maybe if we’re having trouble in our marriage, it’s seeing pictures of happy couples on Facebook or hearing about our friend’s extravagant travels when you’re having money issues. Maybe if we’re suffering infertility, it’s seeing yet another friend pregnant or enduring another baby shower with those daggers of words, “And when are you having kids?” Maybe if we have more kids than society expects, it’s enduring side eye from strangers at the grocery store when we’re handling a tri-child meltdown or well-intentioned bad comments about birth control. Maybe if we have an empty home, it’s seeing young children with their parents at the park or cooking too much and suffering through leftovers for much too long.
When it’s just so painful you want to cry, it’s time we ask that question to Our Loving Father that we are so scared to ask but is burning on our hearts. It’s time to ask, Father, am I doing something wrong? Is this what you want for me? Are You still here with me in this?
This is the question the disciples had the faith to ask when Jesus encountered a blind man on the Sabbath. The man was blind since birth, sitting and begging (literally) for help. Many were passing him by, but Jesus stopped and saw him. His disciples asked,“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
In Jesus’s time, people were thought to be blind, lame, etc. if some great sin existed in the family or person. It was an outward sign of their inward blemish. However, as Jesus taught repeatedly, inward defect does not always make itself apparent, and outward defect can actually be a source of immense grace and blessing. A lot of this thought of people being punished when they are sinful is persistent in our culture today. How often do we say, “well, he/she deserved it” for good and bad things? We actually deserve nothing good, and we’re spared a lot of suffering. And if we actually understood the redemptive value of little suffering we do endure, we’d be begging to have it, not to have it taken away.
It may seem like an odd question for the disciples to ask, but it shows their humanity. I know for myself, a lot of times when I’m too afraid to ask if I’m doing something wrong, I judgmentally look at others and figure out what they’re doing wrong. It’s easy to point out what others are doing wrong. Looking at ourselves, it’s much more uncomfortable. So, a baby step in consciously examining ourselves might be to look at others compassionately instead of judgementally.
Jesus answers in words that have captivated me for weeks:“Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” (John 9:3) And He heals the man, quickly and easily by putting clay on his eyes. The man washes himself in the Pool of Siloam and, for the first time in his life, sees!
What if we’re not doing anything wrong? What if precisely where we are, who we are, what we’re doing, and how were struggling is where God wants us to be? And what if, quickly and easily, God will lift our burden when He decides it’s time?
I won’t lie. Those pesky splinters poke me in juuuuuuust the right places some days. And I collapse, fall, and learn my innate dependence all over again, learning how God’s power is made perfect in weakness and how God is manifesting Himself in my failures.
Even though it’s not gone yet, I do see glimpses of fruit from this cross. This particular cross like none other has taught me just how much I rely on others and their love for me. Even more, it’s teaching me how incredibly helpless I actually am and how much I can rely on my Heavenly Father. He truly provides, and it brings my heart the most joy to see and hear how I can be the way He provides to others.
I’ve found that whenever I’m jabbed with a particularly painful splinter, I offer it up for those I know who are suffering under their crosses. Somehow, offering up that pain for others, my own cross has become lighter and those splinters less pesky. So, to you, dear reader and friend, maintaining your strength under the weight of your cross but being buffeted by those pesky splinters, I’m praying for you.
“Jesus will never let the Cross crush you; on the contrary, it will lift you up towards heaven. It is no longer you who will carry it; it is the Cross which will carry you. Jesus took upon Himself the bitterest Cross, and He will add a balm to it before giving it to you – that is certain. The sweetness of the crosses accepted with the joy of free will is a great myserty, yet very real. That is why you must embrace it with open arms.”
– Fr. Jean C. J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love (which offers several helpful sections on suffering and crosses)