Yesterday, I came across a prayer by Pope Francis:
Lord, roll back the stone in my heart
It’s Easter now. The time of fasting and sorrowing over our sins is supposedly over. The Lord has risen, and by right we are to be all light and joy.
But here I was, stuck in an unbeliever’s world – not because I do not believe – but because something was holding me outside the circle of Light.
The Lord has risen but I was still in the tomb.
I went ahead and (unenthusiastically) said the prayer, Lord, roll back the stone in my heart. Frankly, I was unhappy to pray the prayer. I didn’t like to admit that stones might still be stacked up God knows how high in my heart. It’s as if Lent didn’t work out for me. Everyone else has done their spiritual cleaning and de-stoning during Lent; here I was, wondering if I was only just beginning!!
Maybe it’s because of the Roll back the stone prayer, but last night, my thoughts returned to the hymn, He, and the refrain,
Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live,
He will always say, I forgive.
In the last week of Lent, seeing no hope of change in my place of work, I opened my heart and asked God if it were not possible for just a little kindness. I wasn’t asking for much, I reasoned, because before, I had asked for much more. Before this, I had asked to be allowed to leave this town due to its rejection of me and my family for our Christian values. I asked to leave because it’s been 20 plus years of trying to live out our witness to our faith. More than 2 decades of welcoming the people of this town into our hearts. Of suffering with them. Of journeying with them, respectfully, in the ecumenism of different faiths.
Yet, the long and bitter years to love as Jesus asked have not changed this place nor its people for the better. If anything, this town and its inhabitants are becoming increasingly radicalized. They have begun turning on us for refusing to cross over to their side, for steadfastly choosing Jesus. Exhausted from navigating upheaval after upheaval, I asked to leave.
But this year, God made His voice heard on that petition. He told me that if we left, this town would never know Jesus again.
It broke my heart to hear that. It was not what I wanted. But I never prayed that prayer again because disappointed or not, some part of me bowed in obedience to God’s will.
Suddenly, last night, hours after the prayer of Roll back the stone in my heart, I decided that the next new day, every time someone hurt me, every time a situation made me want to run and hide, I would face it in silence and allow it to pierce me instead.
And I would pray, Jesus, forgive me. Even if I had done no discernible wrong, that would be my prayer for the next day.
No prizes for guessing how the day worked out.
I tripped the very minute I stepped into my work place. I came face to face with the colleague who’s made my life a misery for years. I don’t normally see her so early in the day but there she was, bright and early, primed for malice.
The second I saw her, I didn’t remember anything about rolling back any stone. I didn’t remember the purposing of my day for atonement. Instead, I distinctly felt my heart inflame and harden remembering the injustices she has meted out.
Scant minutes later, I belatedly remembered the response I had planned. Fed up with myself, I honestly wanted to bin the intention of the previous night. What was the point anyway, I never seemed to move beyond the biggest rocks in my life.
But a promise to God was a promise. So, I bowed my heart and listlessly prayed,
Jesus, forgive me
Although I knew I had done this colleague no wrong, although I had loved her with all my heart for more than 20 years and didn’t deserve this bulling and abuse of our friendship, once more I forced myself, as self-inflicted penance, to repeat,
Jesus, forgive me
Then something strange began to happen.
Kindness began to trickle my way – not from this colleague, but from others. It may not have seemed like much, but it was a lot to me. I had prayed for kindness the week before, just enough to be able to go on. Then, I had shushed myself, fearing that prayer was a rejection of my Cross.
But strangely, unexpectedly, a pure spring now gently silvered into my day and my burdens lifted. Although almost every day before this had been difficult, now it seemed as if the walls of the day no longer bore nails to hurt.
For some moments, I struggle to understand what I did to deserve this reprieve. And then, I realise that it’s not about what I’ve done. This is grace. Jesus was pierced as He hung on the Cross. Blood and water had flowed from that pierced side.
The miracle of kindness I experienced today was that water of grace that came from the piercing of my Jesus’ body. As often as I pray with heart and soul, Jesus, forgive me, not the easy prayer in idle moments free of pain and hurt, BUT praying each time I face piercing, the stone in my heart rolls back further and further.
2 years ago, at Christmas, I had dreamt of water filling a room in my home right to the ceiling. I had opened my door and the powerful rush of that clear water had knocked me down. I had then felt the words,
I now know what it means. Opening the door means to roll back the stone in my heart. And I will be knocked down by the in-rushing waters of grace when my spirit bends in humility as I pray,
Jesus, forgive me.