I used to wonder who had the twisted sense of humor to call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion,
“good.” Yet the Friday before Easter is commonly referred to as Good Friday. As someone who was raised by atheists, I couldn’t see anything good about it. These people who followed this guy named Jesus were helpless as they watched him be tortured and killed without a proper trial and without so much as a legitimate accusation of wrongdoing. As I read the story, even the man who served as judge, jury, and executioner, Pontius Pilate, didn’t want to kill him. Yet, to relieve the pressure of the crowd and the religious leaders, Jesus was tortured and executed in the most gruesome of ways.
I first read that story in the Bible that accompanied the set of encyclopedias that my uncle who was in the Navy sent me from wherever he was stationed. Boy was I grateful for those encyclopedias. My uncle had been raised by the same abusive man and woman who were, by then, abusing me. He knew that having something to read could be an escape for me. He was right. I systematically read through the Bible and every letter of those alphabetically sorted encyclopedias. Because it came with the other books, and because the atheists who raised me made sure that I knew that there was no God and that anyone who did believe there was a God was an idiot, I simply assumed that the Bible was a historical account of these people called the Jews and how about three quarters of the way through the book some of them left the rules and regulations of Judaism to follow this new guy, Jesus, who replaced all the rules with one—that they should all love one another. Seemed pretty harmless to me. What was the big threat that was so ominous that he had to be killed to stop it?
While I was reading that history-book-Bible from cover to cover, I was being mistreated. We lived in a filthy little shack that didn’t have functional plumbing. We didn’t have a lot of food. We always had yelling and screaming and hitting and throwing of things. Consequently, I was always dirty, often hungry, and usually bruised.
Somewhere during my reading of that last quarter of the big book that said Bible on the front, a social worker came to the shack. I had two black eyes. Two black eyes at the same time was more difficult to explain away than all the other injuries, so before I knew it, I was in the back seat of the lady’s car. It was the nicest car I had ever seen in my whole 7 or 8 years of life. She took me to these people’s house (I don’t recall their names, but I later learned that they were foster parents). They were nice. They had A LOT OF FOOD, and they let me eat as much as I wanted! They had sheets and pillow cases and bedspreads that all matched. In my eyes, they were rich! My very first memory of sleeping peacefully through the night without fear of anyone hurting me was at their house on those matching sheets.
The first Sunday morning that I was there, they woke me up early. What the heck?! There’s no school today. Afraid they might turn on me if I said no, I got in their car and accompanied them to what they called, “church.” That’s where I first heard people talk about the guy I’d been reading about. Whaaaat?! They were talking about that Jesus guy!
“Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so” I heard them sing. I had a hard time processing that they were talking about this guy who had been dead for nearly two thousand years as though he was a real guy sitting in the room with us at that moment. Whaaaat?!
I bowed my head when they told me to. I listened as they talked to this dead guy. I quickly picked up the words to their songs. And right along with the others, I colored a picture of Jesus carrying a lamb over his shoulder. I didn’t mind this church thing. They had donuts.
These people were OK. Not a single person yelled or hit anyone. Whew, I survived a new experience. That is, until we walked out the front door. My grandfather was sitting in his truck across the street from the church watching. My eyes met his and my stomach clenched up. I knew I was in trouble.
That night when those nice people put me to bed, they prayed. I closed my eyes and bowed my head and went along with it. I even silently asked that Jesus guy to please let me stay here and not send me back to my grandfather. I knew it was going to be really bad if I went back there. I knew what that look meant. That man who towered over me and threw full powered man-punches at me from his 6’2” stature was going to beat that Jesus guy right out of me.
I never went back to that church. It was only a day or two later that the nice social worker came and put me in the back of her car again. When she turned onto the street where that old shack was, my stomach clenched up. I never saw those nice people again.
My grandfather had filed a complaint against the foster parents. It was against the rules in the 1960’s in Southern California to take a foster child to church. Prayer had just been outlawed in public schools, and there was a prevailing wisdom at the time (if you can call it that), that to take a child to church would be considered forced indoctrination. Somehow sending me back to the abuse was a better alternative than allowing me to go to the place where everyone was so nice to me (not to mention the free donuts). It didn’t compute in my little girl brain.
I prayed and prayed to the Jesus guy for the social worker to come get me again and take me back to those nice people’s house. For good this time. But nothing happened. I only saw that social worker one more time when she stopped by to tell my grandparents that she was closing her file on me and labeling me "unadoptable." Somehow I knew that things were going to get worse because she was no longer going to stop by randomly. Things did get worse.
I quit praying because it didn’t work. Over the next several years, I forgot about those nice people and that church. There was never one single mention of them. Ever. They completely faded out of my memory, but one thing I never forgot was that song, “Jesus loves me this I know.” Yeah, right. Jesus hadn’t answered any of my prayers. Jesus was a historical figure in the book that came along with the encyclopedias, in the same category with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The only difference was that Jesus had two days on the calendar, Christmas and Easter, and George and Abe only had one each.
Fast forward to when I was 14, I met three separate people who all wore crosses around their necks. They all went to church. Two of them invited me to go to church with them. The third person was a teacher in the public school where I attended, so she wasn’t allowed to invite me to church, but I think she would have if doing so wouldn’t have been the end of her career.
I went to church every Sunday and again for a lesson every Wednesday afternoon. By then my grandfather was getting older and was ill, and I could stand up to him almost eye to eye. When I started fighting back, he started backing off. He was still mean, but the diabetes and heart disease had taken some of the sting out of him, and I was able to walk right out the front door without him trying to stop me.
I began to seek emancipation when I was 15. The judge granted my request when I was 16. I was finally out. I became a licensed insurance broker when I was 17, and I started my own insurance agency when I was 27 after remembering the only thing I could remember that those foster parents had said to me, “Young lady, you were put on this Earth for a purpose, and you better be about finding out what it is.” At 7 years old, I had no idea what he was talking about. At 27 years old, I knew that the experiences of my childhood had prepared me and qualified me to understand the importance of protecting and defending people who cared for children who had been abused—people like those foster parents who gave me a brief respite from the pain of my childhood. The words of that man gave me the courage to leave my good job and to start the only insurance organization in the United States that existed solely to protect the good people and organizations that care for abused children and broken families.
I finished reading that first Bible, and I’ve read it many times since. I continue to study it. With every study comes a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for Jesus. What I know now is that Jesus was listening to those little girl prayers. He didn’t answer the way I had hoped He would because He had a bigger plan. A plan that I couldn’t possibly have understood at the time.
Jesus understood my frustration of living in the consequences of unanswered prayers because He had gone through it Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked His Father in Heaven for some other way to save humanity than having to be tortured and executed. For reasons I cannot understand, the God Who created the universe, Who could’ve saved humanity with the snap of a finger, chose to bring immeasurable good of eternal life in a place with no pain or suffering through the excruciating suffering of an innocent man--His only son, Jesus.
The grief of Jesus, the only Son of God, being tortured, shamed, and executed in the most painful of ways, is far outweighed by what He accomplished through that grief.
On a clearly much smaller scale, the grief of my childhood has been far outweighed by the good I have been able to do in my adult life because of the “training” I experienced as a child. Is it possible that each of us is equipped to do the thing we were born to do by going through the most painful experiences of our lives?
Prayers aren’t always answered the way we would like them to be. God has a higher, broader, and longer view of the greater good than we will ever fully comprehend. The greater the grief, the greater the good that can come out of it.
I now understand that the good that came after the tortuous death far surpasses the unspeakable suffering. I'm grateful that God promises to work ALL THINGS together for good for those who love Him and accept the call of His purpose for their lives. The good that can come from cooperating and collaborating with God far surpasses the painful experiences that equip us to fulfill the awesome purposes for our lives. That is what can be good about grief.
Still, He gives us the choice to believe. Or not. My grandparents chose to believe that Jesus was the only son of God in the last hours of both of their lives. I’m glad I had the privilege to introduce them to Jesus before they crossed the bridge to the other side. Still, I find it profoundly sad that they squandered their opportunity for peace and joy and real love in this life. The main thing I’ve learned about Jesus over the past decades of my experience with Him is that He embodied Love.
He replaced all the rules and regulations with the wild idea that we should simply show love to one another, and that by doing so, we would be fulfilling all the rules that matter. He modeled love for us in His life, and most dramatically in His death in that He willingly gave Himself over to be tortured and executed in order to pay for our ticket to this place called Heaven where there is no pain or suffering. To me, His name is synonymous with Love.
Despite prayers that weren’t answered the ways I had hoped, despite all that I cannot understand, I choose to believe in Love. What other choice is there? Every choice that doesn’t involve Love leads to pain and suffering that never ends. My hope is that on this “Good Grief Friday” you’ll choose The Source of Love that never ends, Jesus. #goodfriday #grief #Jesus #Love #Easter #Sunday #eternallife #faith #hope
Rhonda Sciortino is an author, speaker, and host of EMPOWERING RESILIENCE podcast. She is the national champion for the Love Is Action Community Initiative, which seeks to eradicate social isolation and the societal ills that emanate from it.