When I was a little girl, my grandparents had a set of Encyclopedias… you know, books with articles in alphabetical order summarizing all human knowledge… OK, it’s like the internet, but in paper form. No, I’m not lying.
The pages that I liked the most were of the inside of the human body. There were 5 or 6 clear acetone pages (like overhead projector sheets… oh, never mind.) that showed the layers of what is inside us. One page showed all the bones. The next page showed all the blood vessels; the next all the muscles then organs then skin. You get the idea. You could peel back each page to reveal a deeper layer of the body or look at them all together to see the whole body. I was fascinated by that.
OK, put that story on pause. I’ll get back to the encyclopedia in a minute.
Right now in my life, I’m reading a book that you’ve probably heard me talk about called “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskemp. I’m reading it slowly to digest each concept and, seriously, it’s changing my life! The main theme of the book is giving thanks to God.
“Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust… This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give things, eucharisteo… remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust- to really believe…
I was totally grooving with her on all these points. Then with her next thought, I stopped dead in my tracks.
But what do you do when…
“When your memories have an old man groping of your crotch, hot, foul breath on your face, and your skin crawls? Give thanks?
“And an ultrasound screen stretches still and you’re sent home to wait for the uterine muscles to contract out the dead dreams?
“Or the woman you lay down with, shared the naked and unashamed, she beds another man, hands you back the wedding albums, and says she never knew love for you, what then?
“Remember and give thanks? For what? What if remembering doesn’t kindle gratitude? What if remembering just leaves third-degree burns?
“The words sear… I wait… Spirit comes and He whispers a name.
When your memories are only painful, how do you look back and find gratitude?
This is the time to superimpose Christ over your pain. Like the acetone overlays of the body in parts, when we only see our own pain, we only see part of the whole. But when we overlay the Cross of Christ over our partial perspective, we see the whole. We look at our pain THROUGH Christ and then, only then, do we see meaning… not in our suffering, but in his.
He was there in your pain. As he hung on that cross, he felt the pain of all the sin done to you, of all the pain ever caused. He was there holding you in your pain, with hands wounded. He pressed your weeping head against his spear-pierced heart and held you in his arms. With a back split open with lashes, bleeding and raw, he bent over you and picked you up. You were not alone. You were not a singular layer. You were meant to be covered over with the suffering of Jesus. Only then can you see the whole picture. Your own suffering is meaningless without the suffering of Jesus.
Just looking at the body parts in sections can look gory and gross… all raw muscles walking around or all blood vessels uncontained and exposed… horrific. But place the skin over the layers and suddenly you see the whole. You see beauty. You see intelligent design and plan. You see what is recognizable.
Overlay Jesus on your pain and suddenly you see the whole. You see beauty instead of gross. You see plan instead of chaos. You see a familiar face on a strange and surreal memory.
Only then can you remember and let those memories lead you to thanksgiving instead of anger, shame, and hatred. When you overlay Christ on top of your pain you transform a savage death into the source of life. Your worst memory becomes your greatest victory. Your pain seen through the cross will lead you to thankfulness for the cross of Christ.
When you look at Jesus, you defeat the one who tried to defeat you. You humiliate the one who humiliated you. Instead of handing your enemy a triumph, you rub his face in his ultimate defeat. And Jesus turns your mourning into dancing. He takes your ashes and turns them into something beautiful. He takes your pain and shows you how it can help others, how it has a greater purpose.
We only understand our suffering by looking at the whole, looking at our past through the filter of the Cross.