Monday, September 19, 2011

When God is the One Writing

I've missed you this last week, Friends. It's been a hard health week for me which always makes it difficult for me to write. But today when God pulled the sun up over the horizon there was healing in its warm light, and I have a bit more energy to share something I discovered this last week and have tucked into the folds of my heart to carry with me through each challenging day.

I found it in the book of John, soon after Jesus rubbed spit and mud in the eyes of a blind man and in two strokes of his hand painted the man's world with light, color, and texture. A couple of chapters later this God-Man, whose fingertips bore unmatchable power, received word from his friends Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus had fallen desperately sick.

The Gospel writer sets the scene for us: Lazarus's sisters know Jesus of Nazareth loves their failing brother (and won't he do something for him?), and Jesus knows that this story will end well—just you wait and see, he tells his disciples: God will be glorified in all this.

Then, just before the story really picks up, the Gospel writer pauses to tell us something very important:

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

Yes, yes he did. I nod as I read. This is the first thing I learned about Jesus when I was little tyke in Mrs. Doerschuck's Sunday School class, with her sweet smile, softly curling white hair and singsong voice: "Jesus loves us this we know..."

I go back and read it again.

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

"So when he heard Lazarus was sick," the Gospel writer continued.

My heart quickens. The English teacher in me knows that the word "So" means "to the great extent that," or, "for this reason." So I know the next words on the tissue-thin page will reveal the sort of thing God does when he loves people a lot—people like us, who need to be reminded of the ways Jesus shows us his love.

I lift my eyes and gaze for a moment at the pink geraniums smiling through my window. The muscles around my spine ache as I sit turning the first few verses of Lazarus's story over and over in my mind, thinking about all of the things that could follow that "So".

 My thoughts move slowly through my foggy mind (has it grown into a forest of cotton?), and I am aware that my limbs have fallen limp and exhausted at my side from the sensation of lead sitting thick and still in them.

My emotions are slumped with my body—a body that almost daily reminds me that it is dying, slowly and quietly.

 I remember realizing as an adolescent that we're all dying; that our bodies consistently deteriorate after childhood and that this is the effect of the Fall of Man. It's just that now it's hard for me to forget about this steady return to dust when my body so often aches and trembles with fatigue.

 And so I daily cry out to God, asking him to sustain and heal me, to keep my body from falling into even more severe illness; and I think, in a very small way, I may understand how Mary and Martha felt and hoped when they asked Jesus to come to Lazarus.

"So when he heard Lazarus was sick he stayed where he was two more days."

Two long days with seconds that passed so slowly the minutes felt like hours, and hours that crawled by slower than lifetimes. Just long enough for Lazarus' body to break and die.

There are tears in my eyes at this point, because this story is not turning out the way it did with the blind man, and I think Jesus shows us his love in ways I wouldn't have chosen.

I keep reading: Jesus makes his way to Martha and Mary's house where he knows Lazarus lies dead, and reminds his disciples along the way of what he'd said when he first heard about Lazarus's illness: "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory....that you may believe."

I know the rest of the story well. Martha runs to meet Jesus as he nears their house, lamenting his late arrival. He promises her Lazarus will rise, and this Jewish woman remembers aloud another promise: the promise of resurrection at the last day.

 I think Jesus must have tipped her downcast, tear-stained face up toward his when he replied, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die."

I think Martha's heart must have quaked and soared.

Together, Jesus walks with Martha into the village where they find Mary grieving among friends and family. Jesus looks at their heaving shoulders and contorted faces, hears their gutteral wails, and is deeply moved.

Even in the face of his transcendent plan to use Lazarus' sickness and death for God's glory, he enters their pain and weeps with them over their dead friend, Lazarus.

 Then he walks to the tomb and calls for Lazarus, telling him to come out into the arms of his sisters and friends. And Lazarus emerges from the tomb's darkened doorway, tearing off his grave cloths as his blinking eyes adjust to the piercing light.

And the resplendence of God's glory fills that brilliant light, and many of the people around Lazarus believed.  

My soul swells and sighs as I look up from my Bible and I know that I want God's glory to radiate from my weakness so that I and others might believe in his power, goodness, and unmatchable love in order that we might have life.

I also know that this is what God will give me. He is writing more of his glory and goodness into my story than I could ever write myself, and although the story he pens may look very different from the story I'd pen, he writes it this way because he loves me.

And so I try to see my story through his eyes, remembering that he is the God of Resurrection who douses our pain with his life-giving glory.

I thoughtfully close my Bible, set it on my cluttered kitchen table, and walk over to the sink where I begin to slowly wash my dishes, murmuring as I lather,

"Now Jesus loved Sarah Christine. So he allowed her a long season of illness...."

And I ask him to make sure that the story ends in his glory, even if it ends in sickness, because his glory is our greatest good.

How might your story change if you told it this way?


  1. Your words are a balm for my weary heart.

  2. Seeking recipes for turkish delight, I somehow found myself on your sight today. It is amazing what the internet can lead you to. Thank you so much for sharing your truly beautiful story. Sometimes I forget that God loves our lives more than we do, and He wants the best for us to His Glory. More often than not, I find myself spending a large portion of my time trying to figure out How to live instead of trusting God enough to just . .Live. Matthew 18:3-4 has been penetrating my heart lately and refining it into a more pure faith. I hope it blesses you too!

  3. Lydia,

    I'm thankful you left a comment today. It is so fun to see the way lives intersect on the internet! It's funny you mention Matthew 18:3-4. I have been thinking on this verse all month, asking God to show me ways I can shed my adult inhibitions, fears, and expectations. What grace that he helps us to do the things he asks of us!