My Lord, it is often easier to spot the weeds that grow in the lives of others than it is to see the same weeds that grow my own life. Forgive me when I tend those weeds and make them grow instead of cutting them back. Grant me the confidence to bloom where I am planted, that righteousness and peace might flower in my life. Forgive my fear of appearing foolish in the eyes of others as I experience new growth in your spirit. Nurture me with your grace and mercy, and lead me from paths of death and destruction, that I might blossom and bloom as a follower of Christ. Amen.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” (Mark 15:33-35, ESV)
Have you ever felt truly forsaken?
The context and circumstances in our lives when we read a particular passage of scripture can illuminate that passage for us in tangible ways. This is one of the ways that I believe the word of God is, as Hebrews puts it, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV) We open our Bible reading plan and the passage for that day relates directly to circumstances in our lives. Hasn’t this happened to you? It’s like one of my favorite proverbs says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)
That was certainly true for me when I came to this passage. I read it about three weeks ago, and it has taken me until now to be able to share with you the context and circumstances I was in when I read it.
First, though, I guess I have an announcement of sorts: my husband and I are in the process of becoming foster parents. This is the first time I am sharing this part of our lives publicly, but it has been months in coming. I might share more about that journey later, but for now, I will share this: one of the requirements of becoming a licensed “resource” (i.e. foster parent) is that you have to take a class called PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education). My husband and I took this class over the course of five days in August.
I learned so much. I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I tried to recap it here, so I won’t. But one aspect of the training we received was the emphasis that, often times, children who are placed in foster care feel truly and completely forsaken: by parents, by adults in their lives who brought their circumstances to the authorities and got them pulled from their parents’ home, by adults in their lives who knew their circumstances and didn’t report them to the authorities, leaving them to suffer quietly behind closed doors; and, often, by God (if they have been taught that there is a God who has the power to help them but didn’t).
These kids not only feel forsaken—they are labeled “forsaken,” by books, articles and one another. (This Google search shows a bit of what I mean.) And the truth is, in many cases, they are forsaken. Their parents, who are supposed to protect them, have, instead, wounded and/or neglected them. The word “forsaken” has been on my radar a lot lately.
And then, during the same week we were in class hearing about these “forsaken foster children,” I turned to the next passage in my reading of Mark, and there it was again:
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why have you forsaken me?
When I read that passage, I sucked in a huge breath of air as it occurred to me that Jesus did not just choose to relate to humanity by becoming God in the flesh. He chose to relate to the most vulnerable of all humanity: the child forsaken by his parent. There on the cross, Jesus entered in to the most vulnerable of scenarios: a child whose parent turned away at his deepest hour of need. Jesus put into words what thousands and thousands of children might feel but never articulate: why have you forsaken me?
There is a very important distinction, however, between Jesus and the foster children I have been praying for: Jesus chose the way of the cross out of love. This is not a case of “cosmic child abuse,” as some have labeled it, but rather a divine agreement between the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—as a means of making propitiation for sin (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10). “For the joy that was set before him (Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” says Hebrews 12:2. Jesus was not a victim, yet he experienced the emotions of one who was victimized.
What does this mean for me as my husband and I prepare to welcome a “forsaken” child into our home?
Honestly, I don’t know. I am still trying to wrap my head around so much of what we heard in our class. And as for understanding the cross, that might take me a lifetime to wrap my head around.
But this much I know: when I pray to God in Jesus’ name for the child or children who live in our home, I am praying in the name of one who understands way better than I do the pain they feel. Whereas I will only be able to empathize in part, Jesus can empathize in full, and as I rely on the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom and patience and words and silence, I am relying on one who not only sees their pain, but knows their pain.
And one more thing: I know the story does not end on the cross. The story does not end with being forsaken. Because while sorrow lasts for a night, joy comes in the morning. Jesus, who felt forsaken by God his Father as he died on the cross to make atonement for sin is now seated on the throne of the ages, declaring with the utmost authority, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
As I pray for the brokenness in our world, from children forsaken by parents to nations victimized by the governmental leaders who are supposed to protect them, my faith is bolstered by this fact: forsakenness is not the end of the story.
Jesus is making all things new.
Are you praying from a place of pain? Do you feel forsaken by God or by people who are supposed to love and care for you? Be encouraged by the fact that Jesus knows your pain. And today, one who can empathize completely with you is on the throne. He sees your pain and your confusion. He understands when you cry out, “Why have you forsaken me?” And just as the cross was not the end for Christ, this place of pain is not the end for you. Walk forward in the hope that Jesus Christ is making all things new.
*This prayer was printed in my church’s bulletin on Sunday, September 8, 2013. Author unknown.