My mother is a schoolteacher, and twice each year, in May and August, she goes through a couple days of blues. May for her means saying goodbye to a beloved class of students. August means saying goodbye to our Carolina summers.
But as a child, I used to get very annoyed with her in May and August. I could not bear to see her sad. We had things to do! There was the beach to visit in summer. In fall we had sweaters to buy and notebooks to label. My mom is usually bright and energetic — but there she was feeling blue. And I wanted none of it.
I did not want to hear about what hurt, about the dear things lost in the change from one year to the next. Acknowledging those would mean acknowledging what Henri Nouwen calls the “quality of sadness” in even our most happy moments. And though I sensed this pain, I did not want to feel it.
In Mark 8:31-9:1, neither does Peter. Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things.” Jesus foretold his death and resurrection to the disciples. Peter then took Jesus aside to correct him. The disciples then expected the Messiah to liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule. There was no room in their idea of Jesus for suffering and pain. They did not want to hear about it.
But Christ turned to rebuke Peter. You are not setting your mind on the things of God, he said. The Son of Man must suffer to atone for the sins of the world.
Then Jesus went further. Calling the crowd around him, he let us in on the secret: you will suffer, too.
Here in Mark are those foreboding words about saving our lives and losing them. Take up your cross and follow me, He said. There is no avoiding pain in a life with me. But hidden in this pain is my greatest promise. This is the Christian paradox, which echoes in our lives: in Christ, death gives way to life.
The thousand little deaths we bear on earth — as small as my mother’s goodbye to the beloved class — have purpose. They break our schemes of earthly joy. They set our minds on the “things of God.” Christ works on our behalf, and we become more truly ourselves, and more fully alive than before.
C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
Lord Jesus, in seasons of suffering and those of abundance, help us always look for you.
Mary Scott Manning lives in Columbia Heights with five lovely women and the occasional mouse. She loves ballet and coffee and Anne of Green Gables.