My soul longing, I close my Bible. My desire is to rest — not to relax and take it easy, but to actively find a properly holy place of rest in my heart, mind and soul. I’m not seeking to recline on a Caribbean beach or to cast my gaze down upon a lush, green valley from atop a steep mountain, though surely those can be holy places.
My desire at this moment is both simpler and more challenging than that. As I sit on my bedroom’s “prayer couch,” I yearn for however long God will grant that I find rest in His love. That’s all I want — or is that more than a flawed and sinful man should want? Optimistically, I set my phone alarm for some time into the future. I understand that which I seek might fill only mere seconds of that time, if I realize it at all, but I embark with hope.
I close my eyes. In one of my most desperate prayers ever to God, I ask him to let me simply gaze upon the fullness of His love. Like a silent flash of lightning, some words of Blessed Mother Teresa come to mind.
“Intense love does not measure,” she said. “It just gives.”
I find myself standing at the foot of the cross. I look down at the rocky ground. “Oh, I see what you’re doing,” I say to God, “but I’m not sure this is what I had in mind. I expected to find myself sitting on your lap in some big, comfy chair. Or maybe sitting beside a little country spring with Jesus, talking some, then just being silent together.”
Suddenly, I realize I have dared question a decision made by the God of the Universe. I know He wasn’t answering my prayer with the response I wanted; I know He was thinking instead about showing me His heart. So I summon some courage, raise my eyes from the dirt and stones on this hill, and lift my face to the Most Holy Face on the cross.
I see a dying man.
The tension of the moment tempts my selfish, restless spirit to fill the silence with speaking. I want to apologize for all I have done that increased the pain of the beating He received, that intensified the strength of the hammer pounding each nail into His hands and feet, that put Him on that cross. By looking for the right words, perhaps I will overlook the blood streaming into my Lord’s eyes from that thorny crown and His groaning at each breath. Alas, I can find no words.
A soft voice from behind me says, “Come stand by me.” I turn to see my Lord’s mother standing back a few steps. She reaches her hand for mine. I clasp it gently; she squeezes, then pulls me next to her and looks back to the top of the hill. Mary’s eyes are transfixed upon her son. Though not crying, she suffers palpably. Though not verbally expressing any feelings, she loves transparently.
“Mary, show me how to love Jesus the way you do,” I tell her, “as much as you do.”
“Sit down,” she says. “Just look at Him. Just be with Him.”
I sit, cross-legged, on the rocks. At once, everything and everyone fades from my view other than Jesus, the Son of God, suffering and dying on the cross atop the hill. But I don’t see suffering or dying. I see Jesus loving. I see him loving me. And I am at rest. Dark clouds and heavy winds move in from behind the hill; I don’t flinch for one second out of concern. I just contemplate love.
Knucklehead that I still am, I look down at the rocks and whisper: “Why?” The Holy Spirit doesn’t chastise me for not getting it. “If you love someone, you want to share in their suffering,” God tells me. I raise my eyes again to the cross, to see the dying Jesus.
“It’s not sacrifice, it’s not suffering.” God tells me. “It’s love. Let your heart rest in this love. And learn.”
(This piece written by Mike first appeared in the St. Louis Review.)