Reflections on the Way of the Cross for Life With a Disability
I have anxiety, a form of OCD, and cerebral palsy. In the last few months, I’ve had several days on which I’ve felt disconnected from what’s going on outside my brain. I’ve felt weighed down to the point where my neck, head, and shoulders hurt as if they were carrying something heavy, even though they weren’t. The backpack on the back of my wheelchair and the tray on the front of it carry things; my arms don’t — at least not things outside my body.
I also happen to be Catholic. This means I’ve been journeying through the season of Lent toward Easter. Part of that journey is a practice of prayer and reflection called the Stations of the Cross. In the past, when I’ve shared in this practice, I’ve spiraled into shame over the ways I’ve failed to do good and the ways I’ve hurt others, and in doing so, have wounded God. I’ve found it difficult to believe I can move forward and do better in the future. I’ve felt different from Jesus and that the gap between us is too wide for me to cross.
On the other hand, some Christians, meaning to reassure me, have said that Jesus has already suffered, died, and risen, so I should feel better. I feel like the implication is that if I just said enough of the right prayers, read enough scripture, and had enough faith, I wouldn’t feel weighed down, or paralyzed, or stuck in the spin cycle of my thoughts. The thing is, I do pray, and I do read scripture, but I still struggle to move forward mentally and to make the best of my reality of living with CP. When I hear responses similar to the one I just mentioned, I also think about people who have been seriously hurt by other people, and I reflect on how the stories about what Jesus did in his ministry and went through in his final days don’t erase the painful effects the actions of one person can have on another.
Often, Christians focus on the divinity of Jesus, but the accounts of the journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross have a lot to do with his humanity. I and many other Christians have been taught that Jesus’s nature is both fully human and fully divine. Given this belief, I found it helpful to think of the Stations of the Cross, also called the Way of the Cross, as Jesus — and therefore, God — experiencing the most painful parts of the human experience. Looking at the Way of the Cross through this lens got me started looking at it through the lens of my own physical and mental struggles and the physical and mental struggles of others. I thought I’d share my reflections here in case someone else finds them helpful. Maybe there will be experiences you relate to, even if you come from a different spiritual background or have none. After all, we’re all human.
I certainly don’t mean to use the titles or reflections below to exclude or point fingers at anyone. I’ve included the titles and references to Scripture only in case someone might be interested in why I included the reflections I did when I did. I also don’t intend to make theological statements or even comparisons between any conditions I mention and the scenes described in the scripture passages. My reflections are simply what came to my mind when I looked at these passages through a Mighty lens.
For anyone familiar with other versions of the Stations of the Cross, I’m offering my own reflections but using the titles and listing the Scripture passages published with the Scriptural Stations. I thought these stations might be more familiar to more readers than other forms of the devotion.
First Station: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-41)
When I think of this scene, I think of the times anxiety has weighed so heavily on me that the future seems too much to face. This scene also reminds me that I don’t have to pretend to have it all together, that it’s okay to have moments and days when I wish the struggles would just go away. I find it comforting to reflect that God knows what it’s like when the struggles don’t go away and when the path forward is painful, and God knows what it’s like to feel alone when facing pain in its many forms. To anyone battling dread or anxiety, or wishing your symptoms would disappear, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Second Station: Jesus, Betrayed by Judas, Is Arrested (Mark 14 43-46)
Have you ever been vulnerable with someone, dared to trust someone, though the thought of doing so made your stomach turn and your body hurt? And when you finally decided to open up to the person anyway, they dismissed your feelings, experiences, or concerns? Has someone responded to your vulnerability by trying to change your feelings when you just wanted that person to be present, or when you just wanted to let that person know where you’re coming from? Has someone you hoped would help you hurt you instead? Have you felt cast aside because something about you, your needs, or your experience was inconvenient to the person with whom you were vulnerable? Do you sometimes feel imprisoned by your condition(s)? Do you sometimes feel betrayed by your body or your mind? You are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Third Station: Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)
Did you struggle to get an accurate diagnosis? Are you still struggling with this? Have you experienced that some people don’t believe your symptoms are real or that some people don’t understand why you can’t just get over what you’re going through? Have you struggled to ask for what you need? Have you struggled to get the accommodations you need in the workplace, at school, your house of worship, or in other areas of life? Do people dismiss your conditions because you don’t look sick to them? Have people thought they understood your experience without asking you, or if they have asked you, were they open to your answers? Have you felt judged because you have not met the expectations and preconceived notions others have had about someone with your condition? Have you felt judged by someone else with your condition? You are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Fourth Station: Jesus is Denied by Peter (Matthew 26:69-75)
Has someone learned of your diagnosis and sworn they would be there for you, no matter what, and then, when things got tough, or your condition became inconvenient, they weren’t? Have you felt that others minimize the challenges of living with your condition to make themselves more comfortable? Have you felt that someone has pretended your condition didn’t exist? Have you felt compelled to pretend your conditions were not a part of your reality? Have you felt that something about you or your condition embarrassed others or made them uncomfortable being around you? You are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Or has someone you love received a diagnosis, and you want to support that person, but you feel overwhelmed by the prospect? Do you feel alone and don’t know where to find support for yourself and the person you love? Do you regret times that you have not been as supportive as you would like to have been? Were you not physically or mentally able to be as supportive as you wanted to be? You are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Fifth Station: Jesus is Judged by Pilate (Mark 15:1-5)
I thank those who are ready to share their experiences, the truth of what it means to be who they are and to live with their conditions. At the same time, I honor those who are not yet ready to share. You are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
May we all find understanding and inclusion. May we recognize opportunities to offer it to others.
Sixth Station: Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns (John 19 1-3)
Do you experience compulsions or obsessive thoughts? Do past choices keep replaying in your mind, and you beat yourself up over them? Do you struggle with the effects of trauma? Do you have a condition that flares up? Do you sometimes hate your mind or your body? You are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Seventh Station: Jesus Bears the Cross (John 19: 6, 15-17)
You know those days when getting out of bed and readying yourself for another day feels like an accomplishment? There are days when a conversation or a phone call that might seem ordinary to someone else feels like holding up the world to me. For anyone having one of those days, weeks, or months where all you can focus on is the next seemingly tiny — yet huge — step, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you. If you feel discouraged or disappointed in yourself, if you feel that life has knocked you down, and you are struggling to get back up, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Eighth Station: Jesus is Helped by Simon the Cyrenian to Carry the Cross (Mark 15:21)
To the members of The Mighty community, who by sharing their experiences and being open to the experiences of others, let each other know they are not alone, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Ninth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
To the members of The Mighty community who worry about how their conditions affect the people in their lives, and to the members of The Mighty community who are family and friends of those living with mental and/or physical health challenges, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Tenth Station: Jesus is Crucified (Luke 23:33-34)
To those who have difficulty understanding and/or coping with the experiences of being and/or living with someone who is not neuro-typical or who has health conditions, and to those who respond with understanding and generosity to others who have difficulty understanding their experiences and conditions, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Eleventh Station: Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief (Luke 23:39-43)
With gratitude, I think of all the support systems, the moments of joy, the hopes, and the memories I return to in difficult moments. To those who give hope to others as they face challenges themselves, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Twelfth Station: Jesus Speaks to His Mother and the Disciple (John 19:25-27)
For those times when all we can do for someone is be with them, and to the families we create when health conditions and shared experiences and goals bring together former strangers, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
Thirteenth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross (Luke 23: 44-46)
To those who are facing daunting prognoses or terminal diagnoses, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you. I also honor the loved ones we’ve lost.
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)
To the caregivers, medical personnel, and frontline workers, who serve The Mighty community in its most challenging times, and to those who are grieving, you are loved, and I’m thinking of you.
I wish you peace and joy in this season of renewal.
I’m also curious to hear from others how their conditions and/or the conditions of people they love have affected their spiritual practices and views on spirituality.
Getty image by Rudall30.