I hope that, whatever else you do with your life, you one day take a toddler on an outdoor Way of the Cross. I hope that you take them on one that involves stairs, and trees, and mud on the path. The best time to take them is today, particularly if today is inconvenient. Then you might come to understand.
When you take a toddler on an outdoor walking Way of the Cross, you will begin by thinking you can chant the Stabat Mater, in Latin or in English, but the toddler will not want to chant the Stabat Mater. The toddler will want to sing gibberish, or Jingle Bells, or not sing at all and not let anyone else sing either. And this is quite right; it’s silly to expect angelic hymns from a toddler. But toddlers must learn to pray, so you sing a hymn that they can understand– truthful words but simple, and not as poetic as you’d like. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
You will walk down the stairs and start out on the muddy path, only to find the toddler is not following you– the toddler wants to go back upstairs. This is quite right; toddlers like to go up and down the same staircase over and over again. But no one can live by going up and down the same staircase over and over again. Stairs are to be traversed and moved beyond, so you will pull the toddler along. Your feet will squish on the muddy path and the toddler’s feet will either slide or stick, or both in quick succession. You will have to stop and pull the toddler’s boots out of the mud; then you will have to stop again and scoop them off of the path, soothe their rage, kiss their wounds and try to keep them from peeling off their muddy clothes entirely. There will be a time for taking off ruined clothes, but now is not the time, so you will take their muddy hand in yours and pull the toddler along.
At least once, the toddler will wander off the path entirely, and you’ll have to go and get them. This will involve crossing barriers, making yourself, technically, a trespasser in infraction of the law; it will involve scraping through nettles and brambles and covering your good coat with thorns. Sometimes you will fall and hurt yourself. You may fall two or three times. And when you reach the toddler, they will be upset with you. But no one can survive off the path, so you pull the toddler along.
At some point, the toddler will melt down and have a fit, and this is right and just. It is a hard road, on a cold day. You could wish they didn’t scream quite so loudly or say “I hate you,” but you won’t love them the less for it. But you’ve come too far to go back, so you’ll pull the toddler along.
Now you’ll come to the next set of steps, back up the hill to the last few stations. The toddler will despair, as well she should. The steps are daunting even for grown-up feet; from the toddlers’ low perspective, they must seem to go on for eternity without rest. Of course, you’ll end up carrying the toddler up the stairs yourself. It cannot be otherwise; it’s that or remain on the path until dark, and no one can do that. There will be no breath for singing, then, and no thought for anything but keeping the toddler from pitching backward down the stairs; nothing to do but go forward, with all prayer and reverence and sentiment gone and only the back-breaking agony of carrying a human person who has had enough. At that point, even the Strongest could break. It has happened before.
Now you reach the top, the last few stations done; Christ is in the tomb and the struggle is finished. There is a fifteenth station, but it doesn’t feel the same and so some people leave it out. The stairs are behind you. No more stairs, no more trails, no more incomprehensible songs. Now there’s going home, and dinner, and play, and rest. And you’ll tell the toddler what a good job they did– and indeed they did, they made it through, they accomplished their Way of the Cross with your help, and that’s all you can expect of one so small. You love them, after all, more than life itself.
Maybe then you’ll understand the Way of the Cross.
Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.