This essay has its root in my severe bout with sciatic pain. I wrote it in 2010, but the message remains timeless.
Though He slay me, I will trust in Him (Job 13:15)
There is something visceral, something I would call evil, about sciatic pain. It burns, twists and tears deep in my right buttock – so much so it sometimes nauseates me. And the pain is unrelenting. It hurts when I sit, when I stand, when I kneel, lie on my back, or stomach or either side. It overwhelms my thoughts during the day and taunts my sleep at night. It is the worst pain I have endured in nearly 60 years of life – worse than my two broken arms, two shoulder surgeries and a broken knee-cap. Narcotics don’t help. Anti-inflammatory meds are useless, as are sleep aids and other pills prescribed by my physician.
The other morning as I lay on the floor trying to pray, my mind drifted to Golgotha’s hill. I’ve been there many times in the past several months during my reflections on Scripture or on the crucifix across from my chair, or on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve been there so often, I can go there in my mind without much effort.
And so I saw myself kneeling before Him. His nailed feet were at my eye level. Each time He moved, a little more blood seeped from around the spike. I lifted my gaze. His body leaned forward from exhaustion. His hands held taut by the spikes. His eyes had rolled back into His head and all I could see were the whites. They were blood shot. From behind me I heard the voices. “There is no help for You in God.” “If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross.” “You saved others, can’t you save yourself?”
Then suddenly – so suddenly it startled me as I watched Him – Jesus arched His back. His feet pressed against the nail holding them to the wood. And from deep in His spirit He cried a mournful, frightened, confused: Eloi. Eloi. Lama Sabacthani. I’d never heard Him speak so agonizingly in my earlier meditations. He sounded desolate. Desperate. Despondent.
I knew what the words meant. I’d read the passage many times. “My God, my God. Why have You forsaken Me?”
As I lay on the floor trying to focus on what I saw in my mind’s eye, I heard the crowd again: “There is no help for you in God.” “If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross.” “You saved others, can’t you save yourself?”
But Jesus, having cried out, fell back to a near-limp position. If not for the nails holding Him, He’d have fallen headlong to the ground. I watched His breathing. It was labored. Almost painful. And I thought, The One who turned water to wine could have easily turned the spikes holding Him to straw. The One who healed Malchus’ ear could have easily healed His own wounds. The One who drove religious crowds from the Temple could have easily stepped from the cross and driven the mob from that hill.
Yet despite His searing pain, despite the mocking crowd, and despite even His tortured sense of abandonment by God – Jesus stayed on the cross.
Because He knew it was His Father’s will.
Many Christians endure unspeakable, devastating pain or loneliness – or both – and not just for two weeks as I have, but for decades. You probably know of some. Perhaps you yourself are among them. And they hear the whispers all the time, “There is no help for you in God.” “Why do you serve a God who treats you this way?” “Your cross is too heavy. Give it up.” And it is reasonable to ask ourselves why they continue doing the right thing.
They continue as they do – they even stay on their cross – because they know the Father loves them, He is aware of their suffering, and for some reason as yet unknown – it is His will.
And in the midst of it all, that is all they need to know.