Our family recently watched the 2012 film adaptation of one of my favorite stories of all time, Les Miserables. In it, there’s a scene in which the reformed convict Jean Valjean crouches over the sleeping body of Marius, a fresh-faced young man caught between love for Valjean’s daughter and the fervor of revolution. Valjean has just realized that Marius could be Cosette’s future, could care for her and love her after the aging Valjean passes away.
In the cradle of the Parisian barricade, while around him all the young men are sleeping for the last time before they sleep in their graves, Jean Valjean sings a prayer over Marius for God to “bring him home.” He prays for blessing, for protection over this young man, for him to get out of this alive and live a full life. He even prays that if need be, he might die instead—he whose life is mostly behind him now, who has never been able to rest, who has been on the run most of his life.
Little does he know.
Over the course of the next few hours, God uses Valjean to answer his own prayer. As men are dying all around him and the enemy is breaking through the barricade, Marius is gravely wounded and falls. Valjean becomes his own answer to prayer as he hoists the limp body over his shoulder and escapes through the sewers of Paris to get Marius to safety.
As he emerges from the sewer pipes, exhausted and covered in human waste, his pursuer is waiting. Inspector Javert—who cannot comprehend mercy and whose world revolves around the law—has Valjean at his most vulnerable moment. Valjean is beaten and beyond weary. All he has the strength to do is to plead with Javert to let him get Marius to a doctor; then he will be Javert’s prisoner again. He seems not to even care anymore if he is taken.
Life is hard. Somehow we must stop being surprised at its hardness.
Sometimes when we are at our most weary, we intercede for someone else in pain, feeling that breathing out those words from our lips is the most we can manage. And God gently replies, “Carry her. Visit her in her pain. You are bone weary and cannot get through five minutes without tears. But I’m asking you to take her to the doctor yourself. And bring her a home-cooked meal while you’re at it. Hold her hand in silence for as long as she needs you to.”
Why is it this way?
We pray for humility, God sends humiliations. We pray for eyes to see others how God sees them—He sends us to ghastly places and to people from whom we want to look away. We pray to know Christ better—He allows us to know Him in His sufferings.
To know Him in His sufferings. And in each other’s.
Crosses are made of solid wood. We see a brother carrying his cross and we pray that God would give him strength, or that He would make the burden lighter. In response, He tells us to go take it from him and put it across our own shoulders.
At the end of the movie, my son, a little troubled, remarked, “But the bad guys [the Thénardiers] never really got punished. They just went on living their lives.” A discussion ensued in which we mused on the fact that, yes, it’s true, the wicked and debased couple didn’t really get what was coming to them. They were never humbled.
In contrast, Jean Valjean died having only experienced a little bit of peace at the end, a short but blessed rest right at the end of his days. He went quietly to his God, content and so very tired of living.
And isn’t that the way life is many times? The wheat and the tares. The prosperous wicked. The good who die young. The unsung hero who quietly pours his very life out for others day after day, year after year. As we wound up the conversation, my daughter commented astutely, “Not a very American ending to the movie, was it?” (My kids are TCKs.)
What on earth is it all for? How do we not grow weary in doing good? How do we put one foot in front of another when we find ourselves burdened with being the answer to our own intercessions?
It is no small thing to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world. But how desperately the world needs us to be. Some of us know how to intercede in power and persistent prayer. Others of us know how to walk out of our doors and “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly” with our God. A few saints do both well. Perhaps many of us do neither very well at all. Writer Brennan Manning says because we are the Body of Christ, He sweats, bleeds, and sheds tears through us. This is what a body does.
But you are not the Body of Christ by yourself. Neither am I. Maybe this is part of the secret to putting one foot in front of the other.
If we know the love of Christ, and we keep betting our lives on the goodness of the Father, we understand that grace will be given us to keep doing good, one moment at a time (2 Corinthians 12:9). We will be keenly aware of our weariness, our need, as we love and serve.
This is a good and necessary thing as we carry each other.
Rachel Hicks is a second-generation TCK raising third-generation TCKs. She spent the bookends of her childhood in India, with moves to Pakistan, Jordan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Hong Kong in between. She married her college sweetheart and managed to live in one place for seven whole years (Phoenix, Arizona) before moving as a family with two young children to Chengdu, China, where they lived and taught holistic ministry alongside a local partner for another seven years. They repatriated to the US in mid-2013 and now live in Baltimore, Maryland. Rachel is the new editor of Among Worlds, a digital publication of Interaction International. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, Little Patuxent Review, Relief, St. Katherine Review, Off the Coast, Gulf Stream, and other journals. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of the 2019 Briar Cliff Review Fiction Prize. She works as a freelance copyeditor. A few of her favorite things: electric scooters, spicy Sichuan food, hiking, and unhurried time to read. Find her online at rachelehicks.com.