My son loves a good playground, but not for the reasons you might think. In my experience, which is not too considerable, most kids love playgrounds for the slides and the swings. This is not true of my little boy. His favorite parts are the ropes, bars, leap pads, and other obstacles that lead, connect, or lead to, the slides and swings. Whenever we walk up to a playground, he immediately runs to the nearest obstacle course type access to the higher platforms and begins to ascend and descend them one by one until they are all conquered. This is why, when staying in Lenoir City, if you ask Jude which playground he wants to go to (because there are several good ones in Lenoir City) he will always choose a smaller, out of the way playground. This particular playground might have missing swings and subpar slides, but it has a hidden gem which is the delight of my toddler. The entire upper platform leading to the slides is made up entirely of intertwined ropes of differing intervals that children must carefully maneuver in order to access said slide. What a delight!
Picture this episode from a few weeks ago. We pull up and run to the playground, where Jude immediately makes his way to the rope labyrinth. He gets about halfway through when, due to a misstep, his leg falls through a hole and he is dangling about 6 feet off the ground by one arm and one leg. Do you know the look that comes to the face of a 2-year-old when he knows that he is in BIG trouble? It is only comical in hindsight! Well, there he is hanging out in a big bit of trouble and immediately I see him begin to look frantically for his Daddio (that’s me). Here is my go-to move. I like to stand some place where I can reach him quickly but that is out of his sight. This is terrible, but I want to see him figure it out and experience the thrill of beating the obstacle (I must note here that all the while his mother is nearing a heart attack).
Jude’s eyes begin to search frantically for Daddio to rescue him and seems to be about to cry out for me. But then for some reason, maybe because some kids are watching and he would be embarrassed to do so, or maybe more so because he knows I am close and that even in the moment of his falling I would reach out and take hold of him (something which has happened numerous times), he decides not to. Instead, he begins to grunt, his little face turns red, and his little eyes search instead for an avenue that will lead forward. In a feat of strength and determination he pulls himself back up the rope labyrinth and then with a bit more care, but also confidence, he finishes the course and jumps the last couple of feet onto the top platform. He then proceeds to turn around, jump up and down, roar the way only a toddler can and then…. wait for it…. THEN he cries out to me, but instead of rescue he is crying out for me to witness his accomplishment. (Meanwhile I am standing there like a rooster at dawn, shamelessly wearing the face that you only can when you see your 2-year-old standing as conquerer atop a playground obstacle course) He flies down the slide, runs over to me, and begins to dance as he inquires, “Daddio, did you see me. Daddio, did you see? Did you see! I did it Daddio!” A bit of trouble becomes a glorious moment for Jude, and especially, for his pride-filled Daddio!
More than once over the last few months Katie and I have worn that same, BIG trouble, face. We have felt that we were hanging by and arm and a leg a thousand feet off the ground wandering how in the world we would get out of trouble. We have often cried out to God for rescue. We have often found ourselves on our knees crying out for our Father to deliver us from our trial, to open doors, to work miracles, to radically step in and make a way forward for us. There have been times that we have seen God at work and there have been times when our eyes searched frantically.
A few weeks ago, I brought a message from the Gospel of John. In chapter 12, Jesus is telling his disciples, and some Greeks, that very soon he will be lifted up on the cross to suffer and die. He actually refers to his suffering and death as his “glorification.” In essence, Jesus is saying that his life will be at its more glorious when he is serving the Father, and loving humanity, by his suffering and death on the cross. It is in this context that Jesus says something incredible: “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (12:27-28) I think the first thing that strikes me here is that Jesus faced times of trouble. Jesus’ soul is trouble. Suddenly, I feel, think, and believe that I can find myself righteously wearing that face of trouble, feeling my soul troubled. But even more striking is that Jesus chooses the glory of his Father over his own rescue. Imagine that! Jesus is more concerned with finding a way to glorify the Father in the midst of his trouble than he is with getting out of the trouble. In other words, instead of crying out for the Father to rescue him from trouble, Jesus cries out in order to bring glory to the Father who has begotten him, in the midst of his trouble. This is humanity at its most glorious!
Here we are in Holy Week. In the journey to the cross, we discover so much about God AND humanity, because Jesus is the fullness of both. We discover that God loves us enough to rescue us through the blood of his only begotten Son. We discover that God loves us enough to cry out for our forgiveness even as we nail him to a cross. We also discover that to be human, at its most glorious, is to journey in places where our soul is troubled. Yet, when we are gloriously human in the model of Christ, instead of our primary concern being rescue, it is the glory of the Father. What if, in times of trouble, we ran to the Father, less concerned about a short cut out of trouble, and more concerned with glorifying our Father. What if it just is not all about us? What if this relationship, this journey, this trouble, is more about what we can do for God, than about what God will do for us?
Katie and I have found ourselves praying a bit differently these days. We still shamelessly pray for deliverance. However, our greatest focus has shifted from our own rescue and easy way forward, to how we might bring glory to God in the midst of our trouble. By the way, the earth thundered as God witnessed Jesus’ desire to glorify the Father: “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered…” (12:28-29) I hope and desire that the Father would be moved, even if only in a small way in comparison to Christ, by my own desire and willingness to see the Father glorified in the midst of trouble. I want to choose the glory of God, and the image of Christ, over my own rescue. I cannot think of a better way to end than with this prayer:
The Prayer of St. Gregory the Great
Acclaim to the Suffering Christ
O Lord, You received affronts without number from Your blasphemers, yet each day You free captive souls from the grip of the ancient enemy.
You did not avert Your face from the spittle of perfidy, yet You wash souls in saving waters.
You accepted Your scourging without murmur, yet through your meditation You deliver us from endless chastisements.
You endured ill-treatment of all kinds, yet You want to give us a share in the choirs of angels in glory everlasting.
You did not refuse to be crowned with thorns, yet You save us from the wounds of sin.
In your thirst You accepted the bitterness of gall, yet You prepare Yourself to fill us with eternal delights.
You kept silence under the derisive homage rendered You by Your executioners, yet You petition the Father for us although You are his equal in Divinity.
You came to taste death, yet You were the Life and had come to bring it to the dead.