I don’t know why I bother planning my Lenten sacrifices. Every year, I sit and think and pray for a long time leading up to Ash Wednesday. Every year, even though I know it will go totally differently, I plan my Lenten fasts, almsgiving, and prayers. Because, I think, maybe this will be the one year that the Lord doesn’t heave His own precious but heavy plan upon me. And every year, within a week of Lent starting, I’m chuckling to myself again that I bothered planning.
Lent, almost always, has been an incredibly difficult time for me. Nearly every year, some sort of life altering cross befalls me. Usually, it’s a very isolating, lonely cross that I try to carry myself. Deep shame and humiliation accompany those crosses, even though I bear them through no fault of my own. There was the year that my husband deployed, I was unexpectedly pregnant, and scared to death I was going to miscarry a second time in a row; I was left home alone with just my young toddler to drown in my worries. There was the year that I was pregnant only three months after giving birth to my first child; we were not at all planning a second baby so soon and I was already mired in severe postpartum depression. Then there was the year that, right around Ash Wednesday, we found out our baby had gone to be with Jesus halfway through the pregnancy; I was admitted and induced in Labor and Delivery and spent the rest of Lent in deep, dark, isolating grief and shame. There was the year that I unexpectedly and permanently lost my fertility and was thrown into long-term grief and soul-consuming shame.
This year is no exception. I discerned my areas for improvement and set a plan for Lent, all while knowing that the Lord was going to create my Lent for me. And, oh, did He deliver. While still consumed with intense grief for my father, another huge cross has been thrown upon me. The weight is unbearable most of the time, and I struggle daily with all of this to keep standing. I have fallen a lot under the pressure of isolation and deep grief and darkness.
But the Lord calls us to step out with our crosses just before He sends our St. Simons.
My cross this year is deeply personal and private. And also deeply painful. (Nothing health related.) I kept it to myself, eaten up with shame, for as long as I could. But, one thing I tell my friends on this path of salvation when they apologize for “unloading” on me: “We are never meant to carry our crosses alone. Even Jesus had the help of St. Simon.” I’m always deeply grateful to relieve a friend of the pressure of their cross, even if for a few minutes. What a blessing!
I must allow others to be that blessing to me. And so I have. I have been so blessed by a few people who have heard me fall and weep. They have seen me in brokenness and shame. They have climbed up under my dirty, bloody cross, placed their shoulder in the crook, and helped me lift it back up. They have helped me rise, steady my gait, and carry on down the dirt road to my Calvary. They have listened to the ugly details of my sufferings, without judgment, and prayed with me. They have encouraged me and given me advice to keep my soul from crumbling. They have loved me.
God has asked great suffering of me the last few years. I have spent more time in valleys than I have in green pastures. For a long time, my soul thirsted for days of peace, now my soul lies in parched trust.
When I was a child, my dad would sit and do Catechism studies with us when we didn’t have access to formalized Catholic Catechism classes (CCD). He would sit with us after Mass, a convert himself, and read chapters of the Baltimore Catechism. I vividly remember him teaching us one day about Christ’s Passion. He said that all the suffering of every person that has lived or will ever live was contained within Christ’s suffering. Every pain and struggle we will face was contained in Christ’s cross. I was meditating on my dad’s lesson one afternoon years later. All my sufferings, all my pains, all my losses and struggles, all of them are splinters in His precious Cross that He shouldered to Calvary. All the pain brought about from my sin, all the pain that befalls me from living in a fallen world, all of those were grains of wood in that Cross. As I shoulder those crosses, those splinters, I spiritually stand under the Cross with Jesus holding the wood where my all my splinters form my part of His cross.
When my dear friends come under my Cross with me, they are not just lightening my load. They lighten Christ’s load. We are then all walking with our sufferings and others’ sufferings, simultaneously lightening all of our loads and that of Christ’s on the way to Calvary. Truly, the selfless love of prayer and encouragement outweigh the intense weight and ugliness of sin. Love, then, truly begins to overcome suffering and sin even before Christ arrived at Calvary.
I struggle feeling like a burden accepting the help and love of others. I feel immense guilt reaching out and leaning on their shoulders. I feel panic when they climb under my dirty portion of wood to help me heave it back up. But, we all shoulder some piece of the Cross. In accepting the help and helping others, we allow ourselves and our friends to further progress down the road of salvation.
Thank you, Lord, for shouldering my pain at your Passion. Thank you for allowing St. Simon to help you, God. Thank you for heaving portions of your cross upon me during my life and allowing me to help you on your walk to Calvary. And thank you for also giving me St Simons to help me walk further to my eternal Glory with you.