For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame... — Hebrews 12:2b
What is this joy thing that it would enable our Lord to endure such horrific suffering? According to the psychologists at Life Model (formerly Shepherd's House) joy is:
a dynamic relational experience. Joy is a “glad to be together” state amplified between two minds that are glad to be together at that moment. Joy is relational. High joy is found in smiles, play and love...
Is it possible then that the most powerful and perfect being in the universe endured his nightmare journey of rejection, suffering and shame, in part by focusing on future loving connection with us? I think it is.
What This Doesn't Mean
So does that mean that in the midst of horrific physical torture and emotional abuse Jesus "pulled himself up by his bootstraps," forced his mouth into a Sunday morning "I'm fine" smile and made himself choose joy? Clearly not.
Matthew reports to his Greek readers that near the end of his life (moments before "giving up his spirit") Jesus cried out words from one of David's lament psalms (Psalm 22:1). These words were so heart-rending, so sacred, that though Matthew was writing his gospel in Greek to a Greek-speaking audience, he reports them in the original Aramaic before translating them as (the Greek version of): My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46 & Mark 15:34)
On the cross, Jesus was able to simultaneously focus on a future joyful connection and grieve the current disconnection from his father that he was experiencing for the first time. Though there is a great deal of mystery here, my guess is that the disconnection between Jesus and the Father occurred because Jesus was "becoming sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21) in order to destroy sin. Sin is certainly the original joy (relational connection) disrupter. As betrayed wives we have had a very close up look at how thoroughly sin can kill relational joy.
Neuroscientists and psychologists, such as Curt Thompson and the Life Model team, explain that our brain is capable of holding two conflicting realities... in fact it matures our brain to hold two such realities in balance. An easy-to-understand but trite example is I want that cheesecake, but I'm a menopausal woman trying to maintain my weight. These two realities — wanting/not wanting — create a psychologically uneasy, possibly painful, place to live.
James, in his letter to the church, calls this place (in less trite matters) "the trying of our faith" and says it works "perseverance" (James 1:3). He goes on to say, Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)
Jesus, the most mature and perfect man to ever walk our earth fully experienced the grief of being despised and rejected. He fully suffered the crushing weight of disconnection from the Father. But during the lowest moments the Godhead had ever experienced, Jesus turned his attention to future reconnection with the Father and bringing you (and me, and all of us) into that place of connection with him. And since connection with the Father was Jesus' normal state, it was in order to gain connection with you (and me), by the destruction of sin and death, that Jesus chose this suffering. He died so that we might have "everlasting joy" (Isaiah 61:7).
What This Does Mean
My husband Michael has written before about how betrayal sets us up to see our futures as hopeless. This is a normal place to be when we are on this journey. It's normal, especially in the early days, to have difficulty imagining we will ever smile again never mind experience joy.
For those who find themselves there today, I would encourage you to:
- Allow yourself to feel the pain of betrayal and grieve it.
After a time...
- Meditate on this idea that Jesus was able to endure the suffering and shame of Good Friday knowing it would result in joyful, eternal relationship with you.
- Begin to cultivate "life and peace" by turning your attention (this will be hard at first) to spiritual realities or "what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5-6). This includes thinking about "whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure..." (Phil. 4:8). Curt Thompson, explains in The Soul of Shame, that our "attention... drives neuroplacticity" (in our case, trauma healing)
- Look for others on this journey (through a PSA support group, counselling, amongst your friends) who can show you that they love you and experience joy to be with you.
- Talk with those who have experienced "post-traumatic growth." Imagine a time when you will be stronger and more mature than you were before the trauma. Consider journalling about what that could look like.
The peace of Christ to each of you this day and throughout the Easter season.