Early on a blustery January morning, I heard the telephone ring. Who could it be? I wondered. I always expect the worst when people phone at odd hours, and this time my fears were realized. It was my son, calling to say that he and his wife of fifteen years were ending their marriage.
I knew they were having problems and were in counseling, but this caught me by surprise. I had been so sure they would work it out. I had prayed so hard. My legs turned weak, and my heart pounded as my son went on to explain the joint custody arrangements for their two young children.
I could hear the devastation in his voice. He had already been under stress; his income as a financial advisor had plunged along with the economy, and he was about to file for bankruptcy. And now this.
Where Are You, God? I cried all that day and the next, and the next— and for a year afterwards. I worried constantly about my son and his children, who had begun misbehaving at home and at school.
I grieved the loss of my daughterin-law. She had been like a daughter to me and called me Mom; we went places together and talked on the phone for hours. Now she pulled away—the divorce made our relationship awkward, she said. I missed her immensely.
Most of all, I missed my God. I talked to him often at first. “Why are you letting this nightmare happen?” I would ask. “I’ve always tried to be a good person. My son is a good person.” I poured out my heart to him again and again, but no answers came.
Then there came times when I couldn’t pray and didn’t even want to go to Sunday Mass. I persisted, but it was difficult to worship a God who seemed to be ignoring me. Had he stopped loving me? I could see no other answer. Throughout my life, I had always felt that God was there for me, answering me in some way or another. But apparently, I would have to work out this hurt by myself.
Praying the Passion. I still had “good days,” when I sensed a gentle push urging me to pray. On one of them, I picked up a booklet on the stations of the cross and decided to meditate on one of these fourteen scenes of the Passion each day. Picturing myself at each one, I found myself contemplating the sufferings of Jesus as I never had before.
I watched as Jesus was sentenced to a horrible death. I saw him scourged mercilessly. I saw the soldiers slap him, spit on him, and crown him with a circle of thorns.
When Jesus met his mother on the way to Calvary, I was there—entering into Mary’s pain over her son’s suffering, as I grieved for my own son and his children. I watched Jesus fall three times, pinned under the heavy cross, and saw a passerby pressed into service to assist. And as Jesus walked, his every step more painful than the last, I carried my cross at his side.
I watched as he was stripped and shamed. I saw the soldiers place him on the wood and heard them pound the heavy nails into his hands and feet. When they hoisted Jesus up, I knelt beside the cross among his faithful friends, with an arm around his mother. For three agonizing hours, we watched him suffer, helpless and unable to do anything for him. And after it was over, I saw his ravaged body taken down and gently placed in a tomb.
Love and Surrender. After a year of contemplating all these stations, I still felt abandoned by God. But I continued because it was the only thing that brought me comfort.
Maybe it sounds strange, but I became fond of the stations of the cross. I began to sense the wonder in what they portrayed. I saw that it wasn’t just anyone who underwent the excruciating suffering and the criminal’s death—it was Jesus, who sits enthroned at the Father’s right hand. Out of love, the God of the whole universe came to live among us. It pierced my soul to picture this strong and able carpenter—Jesus, God’s own Son—straining to carry the tremendous weight of the cross, of our sin.
But I still struggled. Did Jesus love me? If he did, why did I feel so desolate? Had I committed some terrible sin? Nothing stood out as I pondered, but I began to see that I was not the “perfect” person I had thought myself to be. I saw times when I should have acted more lovingly or justly. I saw circumstances when I had fallen short of what I knew I should do. A spirit of repentance came over me as I reviewed these situations, and when I took them to the Lord in confession, I felt relieved and refreshed.
But I agonized about my son, whose situation was becoming drastic. His divorce was finalized. He had not found work and had declared bankruptcy. With his savings about to run out, he was thinking about moving in with me and my husband—three hundred miles away from his children.
In desperation, I finally placed my son completely in God’s hands. I had not trusted God enough to do this earlier, but now there was no other way. Surely all those months of meditating on Jesus’ self-surrender helped me to say and mean those difficult, decisive words: “I give you my son, Lord. Your will, not mine.” And then I waited, hoping against hope.
New Every Morning. The phone call came in early May. It was my son, and the lilt in his voice set my heart racing again. He had been offered a job—a good one with a good salary. Trembling inside and out, I hung up and went down on my knees thanking God.
Afterwards, I spent many days pondering what had happened in my own heart over the past year and a half. Between those two phone calls, I realized, I had changed profoundly. If not for this ordeal, I would never have come to appreciate Jesus’ sufferings for us—for me! I would not have considered how much the Father loves us. I would not have grasped that God is truly with us both in sunshine and in shadow, and that he is able to bring good out of evil.
I’m still pondering these great truths, still meditating on the stations of the cross. Every day, in Lent and throughout the year, I pick up my booklet and contemplate a scene from Jesus’ Passion. It’s never boring. God speaks to me through it every time. His love and mercy are inexhaustible! n
Terri Bauer and her husband, Fred, live in southern Illinois. The booklet Terri read—Step by Step to Calvary, by Angela Burrin—is no longer in print, but during Lent, we are making it available on our Web site only. Just click here.