This post is part of our Lenten series, journeying the Stations of the Cross. In this reflection on the Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross, Lisa, our founder, takes into an examination of steadfastness and surrender. Jesus’s death on the cross models for us how we should die. But what does that mean, and how do we express this love in our own lives?
As the founder and leader that God entrusted this restoration ministry to, I often reflect on how God wants us to minister to others as an organization. There are the foundational elements of our mission, vision, goals, values, building culture and community, all around storytelling that desires to restore people in Christ. Then there are all the people, systems, moving parts, and processes that work to keep it running behind the scenes—peppered with lots of prayer and meetings! But the why and how we minister must come from and point back to relationship, specifically our relationship with Christ, the Restorer. To restore us, or bring us back to what God originally intended, He chose to give up his life by dying on the Cross.
If you’ve been journeying with us by reading our blogs (if not, welcome!) this Lent, we have been sharing with you our way of the cross, or some of the sufferings and struggles we’ve been facing. While each of us in a different state of life and vocation, and we’re all going through our own trials, the Holy Spirit always reveals ways we can relate to the hand of God at work in each of our lives. And by sharing it here and across our other media outlets, we hope that you have those same moments of feeling like you can relate, and that something spoke to your heart. We recently met with our spiritual father, Fr. Joe, and it was evident that we all were going through our own spiritual storms, but no matter what is happening, God is with us. As he gave his spiritual sharing and left us women to discuss, in the raw realness of sisters in Christ that have been accompanying each other, some things about steadfastness struck me.
When we think of steadfastness, we often think of strength, endurance, holding fast until the end. But there are other elements of steadfastness that are harder to embrace, such as feeling weak after being stretched, experiencing deep areas of our poverty, feeling empty from being poured out, and being exhausted in body, mind, and spirit from having to sustain whatever we are facing. These facets are harder to embrace because they reveal our humanity, which has limits. But if we can allow Him, our limits can reveal God’s limitlessness—the power of God at work within our humanness—revealing something greater than we could have ever managed on our own (just look at the Scriptures and lives of the saints for proof!). God has no limits—no ending, no beginning, all powerful throughout eternity. Steadfastness is part of His nature, and a virtue that He wants to impart to help us.
The feelings that arise in the difficult moments—doubt, fear, worry, anger, shame, and so on—are hard areas to navigate in our hearts. To make matters worse, the Enemy will take whatever foothold he has access to in our wounds and struggles, to exacerbate things. The Deceiver will do his best to distort our image of God, just like Adam and Eve, to make us believe He is holding out on us and should not be trusted. In a fleshly battle, perhaps already wavering amidst the stretching, we are more susceptible to temptation. If we even let down our guard a little bit, it can tailspin into withdrawing, giving in, giving up, or hardening our hearts because we feel like we just can’t take it anymore.
Look at the Scriptures—in every generation, the prophets and peoples were struggling to be steadfast. Prime example: God would speak, lead, deliver, provide, and the Israelites would rally, complain, fall away, stir, and repeat. God knows the terrains of our hearts, the areas of pride and stubbornness, and those prone to sin and weakness. And He is the only one One who truly knows how to mold our hearts. Sometimes that may be through suffering, to purge us of impurities, sin, and pride. Whether it’s through suffering or in the form of other opportunities He sends our way, it is calling for death. He is calling for us to die to things we hold most dear—our control, our will, our plans—so that we may be reborn to new life in Christ. It is the bittersweetness of surrender, allowing for death to raise up to a greater life.
Christ did this most perfectly on the Cross: Of His free will he took on the punishment for our sins and offered His own life in expiation. This took on an even greater significance to me as I considered the alternative in a new way.
The byline from a recent article read, “I’m grateful that when I decide enough is enough, I don’t need to suffer anymore.” It speaks of a vibrant young woman, Karen, who received the devastating news of aggressive stomach cancer right before turning 34 years old. Not knowing anyone who survived that type of cancer, it was a fatal blow not just to her, but to her family. She went through months of treatment that destroyed her body—not just the cancer—while knowing it could likely return. If it did, she knew it would be agonizing, so decided to take matters into her own hands. Being an attorney, she was familiar with the Vermont Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act, which legally provides for some terminally ill adults to take a dose of prescribed lethal medication. This legislation falls under the “Death with Dignity” Act, which is legal in 10 states. Her mother remarked, “Karen was such an independent soul. I wasn’t surprised when she began talking about that option not long after she was diagnosed.”
While I cannot fathom living that particular reality, I did journey with my mom through cancer twice—unto her death. Her second diagnosis was terminal, so I have accompanied a most beloved woman through the ups, downs, and ravages of cancer. I also journeyed alongside my dear friend and former boss before that, who went through months and months of the gut-wrenching treatments in her 40’s and is still blowing and going more than a decade later. As strong, vibrant, independent women, I am sure they shared many of the same fears, hopes and perhaps even dreams for happy, fulfilling lives. But let me be clear, there was nothing undignified about my mother’s natural death. Did she suffer? Yes. Did we suffer watching her suffer? Yes. And Hospice was there to lead her and us through the process, keeping her as comfortable as possible. And we felt God’s love and provision in so many ways as loved ones surrounded, supported, and prayed for us.
After Karen’s cancer spread, she said the following in a video, advocating for Patient Choices Vermont: “I’ve always prided myself on my independence. And this illness has really been humbling. It has been humbling to watch my body fail—fail to support me, fail to do its job the way I’m used to. But also the loss of independence has been really hard. I’m very grateful to have an option to utilize on the day when I decide enough is enough, I don’t need to suffer anymore.”
Take a moment to ponder those words “I decide,” “enough is enough,” and “I don’t need to suffer anymore.” These all are natural human inclinations, and within our ability to make choices regarding them. Suffering in such pain—we don’t want that for ourselves or our loved ones. Why wouldn’t this be good? Eliminate the suffering. This seems good, right?
Doing something because we can, and because it serves our own good, doesn’t make something good, or morally licit. Thinking back to my Christian Moral Principles course at Franciscan University, we would’ve battled this out for a good part of class, but for all our sakes, the short answer is best here. And this is we believe, by the deposit of our Faith and the Scriptures—the living Word of God: that human life is sacred. Our Creator, God, is the author of life, from conception until natural death. He is the One Who gives us our body, which will die, and our souls, which He wants to share eternity with Him. Created in His image and likeness, the very essence of God is what breathes dignity to every breathing moment we have. Our dignity does not depend on our physical, mental, or emotional states, which all vary—it comes from God. That means it belongs to Him. Our lives are not our own. Yet we have free will, His gift to us, so we can choose. We can grasp; we can take it on our own terms. But the truth is that we did not conceive ourselves. We did not knit ourselves in our mothers’ wombs. Our lives are a gift from God.
Our time on earth is brief; the number of our days is already decided by you.”Job 14:5
Our goal is not to suffer, and God’s goal is not to make us suffer. Remember from Genesis, the Devil tapped into our pride and connived Eve into distrusting God, and the Fall is what brought about sin, death, and its effects. I believe the hardest thing we can face is to allow God to be God, and if suffering is involved, we accept it by His grace. As a woman with 10 years of infertility, I have faced that more than I ever cared to imagine. So if our end game is taking this life on our own terms, then that’s our choice. But if our final goal is eternity in Heaven with the One who has numbered our days, then what do we ultimately gain from grasping the control back from Him? As Christ faced the worst suffering ever, He made it a point to say He freely gave His life. And as he shared in our humanity, we are free to take or give our lives, and each of those choices will bear consequences in ways that only God can determine. But He hasn’t hidden the path from us at all. He preached and lived it—we lay down our lives, and God takes them up.
Staring at the black crucifix in my living room, I’m reminded of the current struggles of our team, and our own ways of having to die to ourselves in deeper ways. And I am reminiscent of Mom in her final days. I think of how the Father said to His Son, and my mom, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Now receive your reward.” I want to hear him say the same to us. I know it will cost us something; love always does. But laying down our lives is not the end, friends. It is the glorious beginning to new life in Jesus, for all eternity.