I plopped down onto the blue and white checked couch and yelled into the kitchen “Can I have something to eat NOW?” My mom responded “It’s Good Friday and I’ve asked you children not to eat between the hours of 12 pm and 3 pm when Our Lord was hanging on the cross. If you are really hungry, you can have a little bread.” That was all my twelve year old self needed to hear. I grabbed a bagel from the cupboard, toasted it and slathered peanut butter all over it. Bagel in hand I comfortably settled back onto the couch. Halfway through my bread, Mom came into the room and gazed at my plate. She didn’t say much but the look on her face spoke the truth – disappointment. “I just wanted a snack…” I stammered. Mom hardly spoke and when she did it was a tiny whisper “I asked you to think about Jesus’ suffering on the cross today and deny yourself a little food during His most difficult moments. Let’s leave the rest of the bagel there. Come with me and we will all pray a rosary together.”
I have thought about that Good Friday encounter many times in my life. It was almost forty years ago and it still seems like yesterday. I recall it over and over in my mind – and wonder “why didn’t I listen to Mom?” But I just didn’t get it as a child – His suffering, His pain and my opportunity to love Him in little ways when He needed me most. But my mom knew that. I love her for “meeting me where I was as a twelve year old.” She tried to help me understand the hugeness of those three horrific hours on the cross – but she didn’t condemn me for not fully getting it. She loved me just the same, took me by the hand and prayed with me and my siblings.
The experience of real suffering is incredibly difficult for many to understand. The ultimate suffering – that of Jesus on the cross at Calvary – is therefore truly unimaginable for most people to comprehend, especially children. Since that Good Friday “of the bagel,” I have had some experience with suffering. I’ll admit that I never expected to learn so much about it on a personal level, nor did I think that I would become someone with whom others would associate with physical suffering.
Just the other day, I underwent another round of cervical (neck) spinal injections which will hopefully ease the throbbing pain in my neck, left arm and fingers. Before the procedure, the doctor said “I don’t like the way these X-rays look. If this round does not work, we may need a surgical consult.” I immediately responded that I was not interested in anymore surgery since the last two spinal fusion surgeries in my lower back had left me in serious, daily pain. She nodded and said “Okay, let’s see what we can do.” This procedure has left me in a lot of physical and mental pain this week. I wake up with it, endure it all day and go to sleep with it. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but my faith tells me it is there. During periods like this, I have only one choice – to rely on my Catholic faith – the faith given to me by my beloved, devoted and faithful parents. Growing up, my faith was made real to me by the many loving actions of my incredible mother. Later on, I sought to make the faith my own as a young adult, wife and mother through much effort, trial and error. If not for the gift of my Catholic faith, I would be unable to face the demands of living with pain. Somehow, God takes care of my needs each day and assures me that He will show up again tomorrow, no matter the problem or pain.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68
As I left physical therapy this afternoon, I made a decision NOT to wear the pain on my face. Just as I was thinking about this, my friend at the front desk said “You look better today, I’m glad you are not in pain.” I smiled, nodded and left the clinic in gratitude. I’m thankful to God for small accomplishments like that. His grace allowed me to appear joyful, when I was feeling only pain. Through my own small sufferings over these past ten years, I’ve been humbled to my knees as I’ve become keenly aware of Jesus’ unbearable pain on that cross two thousand years ago. My mom taught me, through her heroic suffering with terminal cancer, that I can unite my current sufferings with Christ on the cross. When I do this, the hope is that I can take away just a little of His pain. For me, that is what it is all about. If I can love more, give more and hope more – to everyone – then all the suffering in the world is worth it.