Suddenly he knew he was gong to die right here in tortured agony. Abandoned. Hated. Rejected. Alone. No loving family surrounding his aged body lying on a peaceful bed. No companion to hold his hand as he slipped quietly into the void. No comfort of a kind word at the end of a full life. Pain was his companion, and the ones surrounding him in his last breaths were his enemies, laughing at him while they divided his belongings amongst themselves. There would be no kindness in death for him. He could feel the sweat rolling down his forehead and down his back, streaking lines through his blood-stained skin. He gasped and his muscles quaked with effort as he tried to hold himself up, an effort doomed to failure by terrible fatigue. He had been beaten, but the numbness that shock graciously supplies had long since worn off, and now the pain was ever-present. It hurt everywhere. He could not tell any more where on his body it hurt the most, but if he had given it thought, the inevitable answer would have been his heart.
His heart hurt so deeply it was a physical pain. All he had ever known was intimacy and love. He had enjoyed a fellowship so deep and strong for as long as memory served. His life had not been an easy life, but it had been a good life. His family loved him. He had many good friends, and was respected by those for whom he was responsible. A life of work. A good life. All that was gone now. He had been betrayed and now he was alone. Even his own father was standing by, but in spite of his great power and influence, he was doing nothing for his son. Darkness was descending upon his heart as Death crept nearer to deal the final blow that would end it all.
He dragged his mind up out through the pain as if from a deep sleep. He breathed hard, struggling to inhale. He must focus. He must see. Summoning what little strength he had left, he fixed his heart with resolve. There was no other way. Death was coming, and he would be abandoned. He took one last glance at his father, then turned to Death and looked him full in the face. His eyes fixed on Death as he spoke loudly to his father for all to hear clearly, “Daddy, I am yours! I trust my spirit in your hands.” Then, not waiting for Death to come to him, he stepped forward into the final blow and the deepest dark.
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.1
You must look in the place you least want to look, to find the thing you most want to find. Jesus knew that. Jesus lived that, and continues to live that with us. It has been said that you must look into the darkest darkness to find the lightest light, but what you will discover if you do is that the light is always greater than the darkness.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it2
We see the truth of it in our relationships and our work. If you desire intimacy, you must enter into vulnerability. If you desire excellence, you must face failure. To avoid your personal dark means to avoid your own soul which leads to the ultimate destruction of your true self.
What if? What if the darkness is too dark? What if the failure is too crushing? What if the pain is too much? What if?
“What if?” is a question that must be asked fairly of both sides. What if I don’t face the enemy? What if I stay the way I am? What if I don’t try the hard thing? What if I don’t face my fear? What if I don’t risk the unknown? What if I never make myself vulnerable? Who will I become? What will I become? There is a risk taken no matter which way you go.
Life is hard no matter what decision you make. If you do not go willingly into the darkness, it will surely come willingly to you. Your freedom is found in the ability to choose. The question is, which do you choose? Who do you choose to be? When you boldly walk toward the hardest things and aggressively press into your own uncertainties and darkness, one of the things that will surprise you is that you are actually stronger than you think.
The good news is that we belong to the same adoring Father that Jesus does. He is a father who understands that our way to light is through darkness. There is no more loving way than to walk with us through our pain, just as he walked with Jesus. We cannot know the unsearchable depths of his love without experiencing the darkness of sorrow as Jesus did. But once we do, it becomes clear to us that it was the only way, we were stronger than we thought, and we wouldn’t be where we are without going through it.
Henri J. M. Nouwen writes, “God sent Jesus to make free persons of us. He has chosen compassion as the way to freedom. This is a great deal more radical than you might at first imagine. It means that God wanted to liberate us, not by removing suffering from us, but by sharing it with us. Jesus is God-who-suffers-with-us…Everything Jesus has done, said, and undergone is meant to show us that the love we most long for is given to us by God, not because we deserved it, but because God is a God of love.”
1 Luke 23:44-46
2 John 1:5