It's 2am when the sound of my baby beckons me awake. I roll out of bed and go through the motions of motherhood. I grab him and settle into the rocking chair. My head droops low as I await the end of nursing and can find a pillow once again. I swaddle him and lay him back in his bed, noticing how he twists and turns as he leaves my arms, his beady eyes catching the faintest light. My shoulders slump because I know what's in store.
I crawl into bed, begging with my body to be wrong, but I'm not. Less than a minute passes before I hear him. He's awake, and he will be for another hour and a half.
It's the second time we've been up together tonight. I bring him out of our room so as not to disturb my husband. As we land on the couch, my mind wakes to the unseen reality. I can't put words to it this time as I pray. I can't identify the kind of pain I feel right now. My soul simply whispers, "This is so hard."
Tears slowly stream down my cheeks. I encounter this place at least once a day with the needs of my child. We find ourselves together, in the dark, my hands patting his back, willing him to burp away his discomfort and go to sleep. And more often than not, I battle against the call to lay my life down before I give up my will and succumb to God's. Usually, the tears are hot and the heaves audible, wondering whose sobs are louder, my baby's or mine.
But not tonight. Tonight I'm silent, surrendered, soft.
I try not to look at the clock, knowing it will tell me more about my expectations and my loss than the time. In my quietness, I recognize how no consolation will do in this place. The only comfort I have is that I am not alone, that God sees me, and that He's with me.
As I continue to pat his little back, I catch a glimpse of my High Priest. Merciful and warm, He draws me. I wouldn’t go, I couldn’t go unless He was there. But He is, and in the comfort of His presence, I brave the steps to the altar. With every inch higher, the realization of just how painful this act really is sets in. My eyes are low, my head down, my steps methodical as I climb. I am a living, breathing sacrifice.
I cry often. Death is that way. Painful, dreadful, unwanted. But the gospel is always first about death. It cannot be about life until we have surrendered to death. Death to sin, death to self, death to that cursed inclination to be God rather than love Him and surrender to His ways.
Christ died so that we would die.
My arms are full on my ascent, carrying expectations that have made me bitter. Hopes that have failed me, idols of comfort and ease that have held out on me and left me loveless. All my self-pity and woe-is-me have to come with me to the altar. It’s blocking the path to receive the life God actually has for me.
Heavy, I march upward, resigned to the death God has called me to tonight. My mind is solemn, consumed with what’s required of me. As I reach the top, I lift my eyes and gasp. There’s no room for me. The altar is covered with blood not mine—the perfect sacrifice—and He is not dead, but living.
Oh worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Christ died so that we would live!
I drop everything as I fold into His embrace. I let myself cry in relief, for I see now that I have not lost anything, but gained fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. Him who had no place to lay His head. Him who endured the incessant needs of others. Him who sacrificed His own life for love. He holds me, and I release my life into His. This intimacy, this reward, it frees me to let go and to get low and to press on toward all the deaths He ordains for me.
This altar and every other hold such a strange blend of pain and joy. It’s harder to enter into death than into numbness, anger, or despair. To lay down the futile weapons of entitlement and irritation and give up rights that we never really had in the first place. It’s bitter to realize we’re not in control no matter how faithful we’ve been or how well we’ve planned or how hard we've tried.
But to the altar we must go, for in God’s redemptive plan, this is now the place of joy. Death was once our end, but He who is the Beginning and the End stands in the gap between. In Christ, death is the route to life. He has torn the veil and awaits us, ready to exchange more of His life for our sacrifice. Ready to exchange His gracious love for our repentance from our loves that have stolen from and enslaved us.
This is our spiritual act of worship. Dying to sin, dying to self, dying to all the desires that keep us from giving away our lives. Christ is worthy of our surrender, our living sacrifice. And in my head I knew that all along. But until I offered my life, here, in the middle of the night, I had thought the altar's fire only burned. I never imagined how sharing in the sufferings of the One consumed on my behalf would ignite my affections and leave me burning for more of Him.
grace & peace,