This past Monday, I had cataract surgery on my right eye. My cataract wasn’t too severe but glare was becoming a problem and my glasses needed changing just months after getting a new pair. It seemed a good time to get this taken care of. Everyone I talked to remarked about how easy and painless the procedure was, so simple that I could go to work the next day.
Of course the consent form had to inform me that rare complications resulting in blindness can occur. However, most unsuccessful outcomes occurred in patients with other eye diseases.
Even though my eyes are healthy, prior to the operation, I secretly prepared myself for the worst. I prayed and entrusted my eye to God. After all, everything that I have and am belongs to Him and He may do with me whatever He wills.
When the surgery was over on Monday, the doctor told me that everything went exactly as it should. He removed the patch the next morning in his office, warning me to not expect too much. It takes time for the eye to heal and vision to clear after surgery. And so I was grateful that I could indeed see and accepted his assurances that the blurred vision, scratchiness and tearing were normal.
By Wednesday afternoon and going into Thursday, I was ready to rip out my eyeball and throw it at him.
I guess it is a good thing that God did not permit me to be challenged with blindness. Despite my valiant intentions, I never would have survived it.
This was an excellent lesson from the Lord to help me see just how very weak I am. And, in my pride, I desperately need such lessons, though I can’t say that I enjoy them.
I used to think that “pride” was limited to arrogance or conceit. If I kept myself free of those vices, I was doing all right.
How limited was my vision. How subtle is the enemy.
God, in His goodness, has enabled me to see more now – though I’m sure that there is still a great deal about which I am blind.
One of the things that I now realize is that what some people might think is my “goodness” actually has little to do with my own strength or virtue. In reality, it seems that God, discerning how weak I am, has given me an extremely light cross to carry.
Because our ultimate goal as Christians is unity with God through Christ, we recognize that this also means joining in His suffering, pouring ourselves out in love as He poured Himself out in love. Because He died on the cross, we often refer to our own sufferings and hardships as “crosses”.
In considering all of the crosses I have seen people carry in life, I would have to admit that mine weighs about 8 ounces – while others are staggering under loads of 10, 20, 50 or even 100 pounds.
The enemy attempts to lure me into a sort of self-satisfaction of thinking that I am faithful and holy – as I proudly bear my little 8 ounce cross.
Yet add a couple of ounces to the load and I begin to crumple. I’m whining and complaining within. I become irritable and distracted. One would think I was carrying a real burden.
And so, in this lesson, I am taught that I am a mere child on the path to God, carrying my tiny cross and pledging my love, while having little or no understanding of what that really entails.
I am so grateful to have been given St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus as my patron and teacher. For she teaches those of us who are very small to follow her “little way” (read more here). It is perhaps the only way for one such as me.
However, there is another chapter to this story. Through an online friend, I recently learned of a family who was given one of the 100 pound crosses.
Almost two years ago, sepsis quickly took from a young couple their lovely 18 month old daughter. Her small body was buried on the grounds of an Orthodox monastery, her grave marked by a simple wooden cross. And, as any parents would, they have grieved deeply ever since.
I do not know why some people are given such very heavy crosses to carry. Although I have never met this couple, I am sure that they would not consider themselves strong enough to bear it. Who could be – except with the help of Christ Himself?
Even then, I do not doubt that there must have been times – many times – when this cross seemed unbearable.
But something very interesting, very extraordinary happened recently.
A member of the faithful, a 65 year old man, departed this life for eternity. His funeral was held at the same monastery where the child was buried. The parents were in attendance and the abbess of the monastery suggested that any there might request that this faithful man carry messages to others who had fallen asleep in the Lord.
And so the father did. While acknowledging that he hadn’t known him well, he asked this man to tell his little girl to “say hi to Mom”.
A few days later, my online friend (the father’s godfather) while looking at the cross for their recently deceased church member, saw something else glinting. Taking a closer look, he saw the child’s cross bathed in light – an exceptionally brilliant light. And he received its image so that he could share it…
What does all of this mean?
For the parents to see this image must have been a great consolation, though undoubtedly a highly emotional one.
How else could they (or we) interpret it but as an assurance that their loving message was received and that their daughter is indeed enjoying the fullness of light and joy in heaven?
While it does not bring their daughter back to them, it may make the unbearable a bit more bearable as the “things unseen” that they know by faith are, for a moment, made visible to their aching hearts.
But I think that there is an additional message in this image for all of us.
I wonder why God chose the child’s cross to carry the message of consolation. Certainly there were an infinite number of ways He could have accomplished this.
Of course, it marked her grave and thus would seem a logical choice.
But also, it is a cross.
At the time we carry them, all of our crosses feel heavy to us, whether they weigh 5 pounds or 100 (or just 8 ounces). We feel overwhelmed and discouraged and alone with them.
We cry out to God, as did the Lord Jesus when He hung from His, and we feel lost in unending darkness.
And yet, here – here – it seems that God lifted the veil for a moment. For just a moment in time, He has given us a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the crosses we carry.
“Come, see what I have done. I have gathered to Myself all of your pain, your anguish, your tears and sleepless nights. I have taken your cross and drawn it into Mine, and the darkness is no longer dark but light, My light – My glorious and eternal Light. Come, My love. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid…My joy awaits you.”
It is this cross, this cross of light that I will keep ever before me as I stumble through the darkness.
God is with us. Yes, He is with us always.
(Many thanks to my online friend, the parents of the child and the abbess of the monastery for permission to use here their story and photographic images for the greater glory of God.)
As a lay member of the monastery community and close to the online friend and the family, this whole episode was one of many experiences that prove the infinite love and concern that our Lord has for all of us. When we try to carry our cross independently, we stumble and fall, but when we allow the Lord to be Lord of lives, He is there and the cross is very light.
In being part of this wonderful experience I feel that this small cross enveloped in the light of transfiguration is a lesson for all. Our departed ones are there on the other side of the wall of death, supposedly, according to our modern culture, a wall of pain and suffering, but in incidents like this we are made aware that the wall is temporary. We who are in Christ will join our loved ones on the other side.
Thank you so much, John, for sharing your faith and experience. So many in our culture believe that there is no “other side” and that what we see in this life is all there is.
I have begun to suspect that the only real barrier between those who have crossed over and us is our sin and incomplete faith. In other words, it is not a matter of “geography” that we are apart from them – they are with us, but we are in such a condition that we cannot see.
Of course, we will never be able to “see” on the basis of our own efforts. But if we surrender ourselves to Christ, He will bring us to perfection in Himself and “we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Then all will be revealed and the totality of His love will be made known.