MaryBeth Eberhard ponders our ability to find joy even amid the times of greatest difficulty.
Have you ever looked up from the path you are walking and thought this path is too long or this thing I am struggling with is too hard? Then perhaps a shorter path or an easier load is revealed? You step into it in delight! Why, thank you, Jesus! Why didn’t You show that to me earlier? So you hippity-hop along your way thinking how much faster this is! Your bag feels lighter and you take a breath. Now this is the way it should be and you settle in.
A few days into this journey, however, as you sit with ease in your comfortable home or car, you feel yourself struggling with discontent. Why ever could I be frustrated? What is wrong? I have everything. This path is so much lighter than the one I was walking! I am not travelling for surgeries anymore. I am well. My children are on their way to freedom and wellness. I have a beautiful home and good friends. My marriage is strong. What is this discontent? What now do I need?
The strangest thing about being a Christian is that we are called to carry a cross. Some days we carry a few, and those crosses can be overwhelmingly heavy. Some of us have cancer in our family, or a spouse needs a job, or our children are sick in body or spirit. It is in carrying those crosses that we are forced to call out to Jesus and surrender. Perhaps it is this surrender that we need to work on. This life we are given is not our own. Day by day, what we have is always His.
Our fallen nature tells us we can go it on our own; that we know the better way, the faster path. (Satan is prowling in the bushes on that path!) The truth is that we need each other, and more so, we need Jesus. Looking back on my life thus far, I see that it is in the times of greatest strife that paradoxically I have been the most joyful. I was often asked: "How can you be so joyful?" I remember asking a good priest friend, "How can I be singing praise songs in my room at the Ronald McDonald House while my daughter is literally wasting away at the hospital, and in the next minute, be falling on my knees in supplication because the cross is so heavy?"
I think it is because by our Baptism, and the Spirit placed within us, this mark of a Christian calls us back to our roots, to Him. Both in suffering and in joy when we stay close to the Lord and offer those as a gift to Him, we engage. We are not passive in our faith.
It is the strangest feeling for me to not be in a hospital season. It feels even stranger to crave it. As a mom of eight children, with many special needs, some you see and some you do not, and for whom death has knocked at the door more times than I would like to remember, I remember those seasons so well. How strong my prayer life was! How deep and humble were my friendships! I stand now out of the valley and in the weirdest way am looking back at the valley instead of the mountain. I think there is much to be learned from that valley experience, those years in the trenches!
In my mind, I paint a picture as to what that time looked like and while there are tears, we are surrounded by prayer and loved ones. There is a table set with food for my children. There are people gathered in prayer for me, or for my son or daughter.
There are those now within our lives who are in the valley, deep and dark, and for whom the path seems long and unknown. Let us be like Simon of Cyrene and help them carry their cross. Let us go ahead like Joseph of Arimathea, and see a need and fill it for them. Let us be present like John of the Cross so that Jesus may call on us in His need. Let us say Yes like Mother Mary and change the world, one life at a time.
Yes, as Christians we are called to carry a cross, but perhaps sometimes that cross may not be our own. Father in heaven, grant us courage to live a cross-filled life, that we may take up ours and help carry others. Grant us eyes and hearts to see and serve and in so doing give purpose to our days.
Copyright 2023 MaryBeth Eberhard
About the Author
MaryBeth Eberhard spends most of her time laughing as she and her husband parent and school their eight children. She has both a biological son and an adopted daughter who have a rare neuromuscular condition called arthrogryposis and writes frequently about the life experiences of a large family and special needs. Read more of her work at MaryBethEberhard.com.