At the Foot of the Cross

by Joanie Butman


With Fat Tuesday* looming, I wanted to share what I consider my most valuable Israel takeaway  – or more accurately, ‘leave behind.’ When the professor suggested we begin the trip open to the divine mystery and a new way of looking at things, I had no idea the ‘thing’ God was going to have me see in a new way was me – and not the me I see in the mirror every morning. What I saw was the one I prefer not to examine too closely. The one without cover up. 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bare my darkest secrets. You probably already know more than you ever wanted about me by now anyway. God and I have spent years reconciling the big issues. Those are hard to ignore. The ones He was addressing now were more mundane in nature. The kind that are easily ignored and are merely symptoms of being human, which creep in and take root if we aren’t vigilant and intentional in addressing them. I just didn’t realize how many I was carrying around – much the same way I couldn’t understand why my backpack was so heavy until I unloaded all the rocks I’d collected. DUH!


This divine dialogue was prompted by a question the professor posed on our first day. He asked what we intended to leave at the foot of the cross. He challenged us to consider what we needed to surrender to create a vacancy for God to enter. We had over a week before we reached Calvary. God formed the world in seven days. You can just imagine how much He could reveal in the same amount of time. In fact, I don’t think I could have handled any more self-revelations.

As we approached Jerusalem, I chose one of the many rocks I picked up in the area David fought Goliath and wrote the flaws and transgressions (my own Goliaths) I wanted to surrender at the foot of the cross. And I would have if I could have found it!! The closest I came was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Golgotha sits behind glass in a non-descript hallway.


In reality, it would have taken a boulder the size of the ones used in the Roman attack on Masada to list everything I wanted to leave at the cross. No wonder my heart feels so heavy some days. We aren’t meant to carry rocks of bitterness, resentment, worry, fear or any of the other soul-crushing conditions we tend to lug around unnecessarily. This exercise was not going to be a singular event. Developing a habit of unloading on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis is what He was teaching me.  


Initially, I hesitated using the photo I took for my own purposes as a reminder not to get weighed down by my own humanity. I settled on showing one side - the least offensive of course. After all, who wants to advertise their most unattractive attributes? Then again, I’m sure you’re all familiar with them – at least those that know me well. You may not relate to all of them, but I’m sure there are a couple you might share. 

Did I find a place to deposit my tattooed rock? Believe it or not, I boarded the plane with it still in my backpack. Perhaps I was clinging to those things more tightly than I thought. That oversight was also indicative of my spiritual life. So much easier to ignore our flaws, blame them on others, or pack them away and put off remedying them. You’ve used or heard all the excuses: he made me so angry, she hurt my feelings, I’ll deal with it tomorrow, etc. People and circumstances can be challenging. However, we always have a choice as to how we respond to them. 


Regardless, I refused to go home with unnecessary baggage so deposited my stone in the seat pocket. Not the sacred space I envisioned, but the person I surrendered them to was more important than the place. It’s not like Christ does daily pickup at the Wailing Wall. He will receive whatever we choose to lay at His feet wherever it happens.


So why am I sharing this lesson now? As we approach the Lenten season, I thought it might be an appropriate time to choose to spend the next 40 days considering my professor’s question. What do you need to deposit at the foot of the cross on Good Friday? It’s a liberating exercise but not easy. As one of my recent devotions stated, “many people turn away from growth because they refuse to tolerate the pain of honest hindsight.” So true. Abstaining from chocolate is a lot simpler than giving up long-held grievances or habits. You won’t get the added benefit of losing weight from giving up sweets, but I promise your heart will feel ten pounds lighter.

What will you choose to leave behind?


Something to listen to as you consider what needs to be left at the foot of the cross.

*Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. It is also known as Mardi Gras Day or Shrove Day. It is a day when people eat all they want of everything as the following day is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a long fasting period for Christians.