Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Comparing crosses.

I am guilty of comparing my crosses in the worst way. During my second pregnancy, and first bout with hyperemesis gravidarum (HEG), I resented friends who "threw up once or twice, I think." Before conceiving the third child, I begged God, "I'll suffer HEG again... anything, if I can only have more kids!" And then, as I lay in the hospital with four needles in my arm, I of course resented all those women who were barren.

My cross is rarely what I want.

Another way I compare crosses is the "humbler than thou" technique. How dare I complain when women throughout history have suffered HEG in wartime, in rice paddies, and even died from lack of medical care? Clearly, they suffered more. I should shut up and get on with the IV's.

It is all a ridiculous attempt to make myself God and judge. In my own heart, I would say it's as deadly as the drive to abort a child, use IVF, or any of the terrible sins against a person. This is a dreadful thing to say, but here is why. The bargaining with God is a hidden sin of the apparently sinless--the seeming saints--who lie suffering and feel they are automatically doing something beautiful for God.

The drive to compare our sufferings to others begins like a creeping darkness. We hardly notice our hearts have fallen into the snare.

When friends see me lying in bed or listen to the vomiting in the next room, I can begin to hear it in them, too.

"You poor thing. I shouldn't complain to you about x, y, z. You're so sick. Don't listen to me."

Don't be silly. I look pretty bad, but who can possibly know what it really costs or does not cost me? There is enough each day for me to give you my ear. How can I agree with you if I don't know what it is you want to say? And so, please tell me what you are going through. I want to know and hear and offer something for you if I can. Do not assume my burden is heavy (it is not).

The next most frequent sorrow: "I hope you are remembering how blessed you are to be able to have children." This is usually from the dearest and holiest souls--who know my desire to serve God and my total faith in the eternal gift of a human person. It is a good reminder. Until the punchline hits, "I can't. I would suffer everything you suffer for even one child."

That is good. What a beautiful desire. And what a difficult, terrible burden.

But it sounds so close to that bargaining we do with God, "Lord! If you will only give me A, I will do x, y, and z for you!"

Or, "Lord, take this cup away from me and I will _________________."

This is terribly human. Terribly noble in a sad and hopeless way. We were made for more than this.

We are not created to compare crosses, hold them up for measure, take our pick, and live happily ever after. There is no eternal bargain, hidden from view, that once discovered will mean we can demand of God every crown we desire.

There is nothing I can offer God that would "convince" Him to change the course laid out for me, because the course was set from eternity so that my nothingness would be filled completely with His Being. The only response to His total gift of self on that one and ultimate Cross? To trust. To surrender. To receive.

There is so much joy in every cross--in sickness, in health, in children, in barrenness, in early death, in long life. How could I anticipate or plan for my happiness? I am too small, too finite. There is only submission to love and trust in that love.

This obedience to God's will for my irreplicable and irreplaceable life is that something beautiful for God. I will listen and observe the struggles and crosses of all the saints and then say, "How wonderful!" And if my own life seems a little tepid when I turn back to my cross, I know that is my own telescope vision.

The reality is that there is no other cross I can bear today. There is no other suffering and no other reward for me than a brief, brief trial and an eternal joy won for me by the Cross that contains and is perfected in all our trillions of crosses.



Faith E. Hough said...

Erika! I've been caught up in the craziness of life and the new school year and haven't stopped by in a while. But you had that happy, yet not-feeling-great look on Sunday which made me wonder. Congratulations! Of course you will be in our prayers that everything will go as smoothly as it can, despite difficulty.
As you say, God is the only one who knows what each of us can handle and why we must. I often find myself metaphorically hugging my own crosses to myself and begging God, "Please, leave me these! I don't want anyone else's!" But He gives us grace as we need it, not before...and we can do all things through Him.

mwa said...

Dear Erika,
Have you read Solange Hertz? I often go back and read this bit from "Come Down Zacchaeus" when a cross is tripping me up:
“'I am become a laughing-stock all the day, all scoff at me,' foretells Jeremias, not only of the Son of God, but of anyone who follows Him. The Christian has to get used to being laughed at, because he’s bound to look ridiculous. This comes of carrying a cross.
Actually, a cross is never carried. Our Lord never commanded us to carry it because that’s impossible, and God doesn’t command the impossible. If He appears to have said this---as He does sometimes in St. Luke (14:27)---it’s because a translator chose to adopt the secondary meaning of bastazei, a verb which means primarily 'to lift up' or 'to raise.' Our Lord himself endured the Way of the Cross to prove to us that even He in His human weakness couldn’t carry His cross any more than we can ours.
What our Lord told us was, 'Take it up.' Once taken up, a cross is yanked, pulled, kicked, dragged, heaved, pushed or toted uphill. (If you’re carrying a cross, put it down. It’s not yours; you’ve picked up somebody else’s.) Eventually, like our Lord, you will have to submit to the humiliation of admitting it’s too much for you and you’ll have to accept help. Even so, you trip over it. You drop it---usually on your own foot---and often fall under it in sight of everybody. At the last, somebody else sets it up for you, nails you to it, and you die on it---slowly---stark naked as Adam. This is living the spiritual life, and the world will always laugh at it. Although transfiguringly beautiful from 'up there,' down here it’s very undignified."