It is 4:53 in the morning and I have an appointment with grief. I stumble down the stairs in the darkness, the morning lit only by the moon reflecting off the new fallen snow. I dreamt of her again. This time she is rallying and coming home from the hospital to find my fruit salad to “hit the spot.” She calls me and we laugh. We talk of remodeling her kitchen, of refinishing the cabinets in the soft green of sycamore. We make plans for dinner and I feel myself begin to relax a bit, as if it might all be okay. I awake and I know I have been dreaming, I remember instantly that she is gone, all the scenes from the untold hours in the hospital as March turned into May flood my mind, those hours when we waited and prayed and hoped counting any sign of progress as praise.
Her pain is what keeps me up at night. We are never prepared to see those we love cry out in pain while we stand helpless and weak, holding hands, feeding ice chips, singing songs. I remember her pain, I remember that I could not make it stop. I remember that I screamed for God to take her pain away, and so, God did, in God’s way, in God’s time.
It is with this—this God’s way, God’s time— that, if I’m honest, I struggle. The truth is somewhere down deep in this theologian’s heart there is a hidden belief that God exists to protect us from pain, to relieve us from heartache and to keep us from the broken, hurtful places of this life such that when I face soul wrenching pain I believe God has failed me, that God is not on time. Not a pretty confession for a professor of Bible, but the unspoken truth of a girl who lost her sister and now her mama far too soon.
In this struggle I am drawn down to the pages of the Gospel of John and another story of our sisters, Martha and Mary who know something about waiting on the Lord. Followers, friends and believers of the power of God in Jesus, yet they too cried out to him, “Where have you been?” It seemed to Martha and Mary that Jesus showed up too late since their brother Lazarus had passed four days prior—their struggle is not belief but acceptance, they question God’s timing, God’s ways.
We should go easy on them, as this is a struggle as old as creation itself, as old as the relationship between the human and the Divine. Abraham and Joseph and Job writhed against understanding God’s ways, God’s time, and so do we all, descendants of the Garden as are we.
Jesus will reveal to our sisters that God’s timing has a purpose, “To demonstrate the glory of God,” and as the story continues Jesus calls Lazarus back from the grave—glorious to be sure. For my part, I am caught earlier in the story, before all is well, before anything makes sense, when Jesus weeps with those he loves who are hurting and confused, his tears are glorious. Divine beauty and love poured out in those salty tears shimmering down his lovely face.
It is the sacred tears, the holy love, the “I’m in this with you,” Jesus who holds us up in hospital rooms, who props us up in our homes filled with dreams foreclosed and sustains us in our bodies that cannot carry babies to term. It is this Jesus who weeps with us and holds us close in the midst of our pain, when we cannot understand the ways or the timing of God. It is this Jesus who knows our pain, who keeps us, who stands with us, who never will leave or forsake us who reminds us that God’s ways and God’s timing are perfect, so that we lift our heads in hope, we lift our lives in surrender and we spend our days leaning hard into the love that will see us through to the glorious end of it all.