“God, NO! Stop falling!” These were the fragments of thought that were bursting through my mind on this otherwise serene yet sweltering day in our jungle village. A six feet tall house ladder doesn’t sound so high unless the person falling is only about half that tall and not yet two years old.
I saw it all in slow motion. Corabelle reached across the gate to throw some noodles to a chicken below our village house. Before I could stop her, her body weight had shifted across the gate and toward the ground. I made it to her just in time to see her tiny body fall headfirst. Surreal. As her head smashed against the highest step on the ladder it was rapidly compressed down toward her chest. This caused her body to roll with great force. Somehow though, she managed not to fall through the wide spaces between the narrow steps and directly to the ground—instead the force of her roll thrust her body forward resulting in her forehead hitting the third step down on the ladder —smack! In this instant my heart froze. Her neck was bending backwards. What was I supposed to feel seeing her body in such a twisted and unnatural position? Disbelief. Her momentum continued until her body was thrown for another roll. Finally, this fragile girl crashed to the ground directly on her back. “Oh my God!” Erin screamed.
I remember about a month before coming to Papua New Guinea, I had listened to a radio show where a brain doctor talked about the phenomenon of traumatic events seeming to happen in slow motion. I was incredibly fascinated by how they tested for such a thing in a laboratory and quantified the results. But this wasn’t anything like that. I mean, it was in slow motion. But it wasn’t fascinating. And we weren’t in some laboratory. It took her so long to fall—but it seemed like it took me even longer to react. I was helpless.
When I finally got up the courage to move, I hopped over the gate and down the steps. The whole time I was staring at her motionless body. I couldn’t help but think, “This must be a dream. I will continue to believe that this is a dream until I know she is okay.” I knew enough to know that I shouldn’t move her body in case of a spinal cord injury. But honestly, the nearest decent medical facilities for such a thing were a country away. Luckily, I didn’t have to decide to pick her up. She started crying and began turning over on her own. At this time, I snatched her in my arms and held her closer than I ever dreamed possible. She whimpered. I whimpered. The whole village sat in stunned silence.
Erin called out to me, “Hey! Is she alright?” But I sat there in silence. I didn’t know. All I could do was hold her. I paced across the village. Back and forth. Finally, I became aware enough to check her head for bruises. Erin and I found two. As we contacted the appropriate medical personal and waited the next several hours for signs of head trauma, I had a lot of food for thought.
“Is it worth it?” After all, me bringing her here increased the chances of such a thing happening. Village houses are often unsafe due to faulty design. “Nope,” I thought. “It’s not worth it.” In that instant I would have traded anything for the life of my beloved daughter. “How would I tell my parents and in-laws about this?” The shame I would feel. “I was just naïve coming here. I never meant for anything like this to happen.”
I often hear it said that Jesus bore OUR cross FOR US. That Jesus suffered such horrible and excruciating pain so that I wouldn’t have to. I deserved to. But because of him, I don’t have to.
But did Jesus really intend to suffer so that I wouldn’t have to?
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”
Many of Jesus’ disciples did take up their cross as Jesus did before them—dying by crucifixion. Millions more have suffered and willingly sacrificed family, power, houses, wealth, children, prestige—and some their bodies unto death itself. Am I willing to be crucified as well? Am I willing to send my family to Golgotha?
“I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church.”
So when I hear people say that Jesus died on the cross so that I don’t have to—I understand what they mean. But I always cringe a little bit. He bore my sin, but I have the privilege in sharing in his pain. Indeed, I am trying to learn what it means to die on my own cross daily. To participate in the sufferings of Christ. My actions often say that I am willing, but sometimes my heart fights against it. I am imperfectly walking this journey. I’m desperately grasping for the hem of Jesus’ garment. I’m crying out to him for help.
But I’m still left with the same question: did Jesus really bear our cross? I think yes… and no. I’m not ready to throw away the saying. He went to the cross because of our sin. He suffered because of us. And through him the powers of darkness are defeated and we are made right with the Father. We couldn’t accomplish Jesus’ mission for him. In that way, YES! He bore our cross. Nothing can change this. But also, nothing can change the fact that he asks us to bear the agonizing shame and pain of our own cross as well. I’m only grateful that he hasn’t left us to bear this burden by ourselves and in our own strength.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Postscript: Later we found out that Corabelle had made it through the fall just fine.