I haven’t written anything for a while now, and I feel like I should at least say something for all those who have been supporting me and praying for me on my journey (thank you ever so much, by the way – I haven’t forgotten you, and I have really needed every one of your prayers).
Since I don’t know what to say I’m just going to start typing and hope that my words make sense. Also, a friend from work recently sold me two film cameras, so you can enjoy some dodgy photos as you read.
Last time I posted an update was in February (way too long ago), and I expressed that I was going through a depressive season. I have to say not much has improved since then; I’ve lost a lot of weight, I’ve cried a lot and I’ve become sick, but God has been challenging me to keep pressing forward even though I might not feel like I have the strength most days.
In the mental cave of darkness that I’ve grown accustomed to living in for the past few months, sometimes people have stood at the opening and called out to me, trying to coax me out into returning to a life of normalcy. A few times, one or two particularly special friends have tentatively crept their way in and generously offered to keep me company in the darkness for a time, not trying to fix me or pull me out, not promising to stay forever, but just comforting me, giving my pain dignity, staying with me for a little while and allowing me to exist without any pressure of pretending to be okay. These particular people have been the healing therapy that I’ve so desperately needed. One friend who has stood by me day and night, who has cried with me and comforted me, and taken all my anger and sadness and accepted me through it all, has been Jesus. There have been times where I’ve asked him to lift me out and rescue me, but instead he has told me to wait and trust in his timing, telling me that I will understand in the end when I can look back and see where he has taken me.
In all of this I’ve learned a lot about God’s place in suffering, and I’ve encountered some people written about in the bible who had to wrestle with similar questions in their pain long ago. In John chapter 11, Lazarus fell sick and Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to let him know that his friend was dying. “Jesus loved Martha and her sister [Mary] and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” 1 Jesus had already demonstrated that he was able to heal people with as little as a spoken word, no matter the distance – but instead he chose to stay where he was and wait. Lazarus’ condition grew worse and he eventually died after what we can assume must have been an uncomfortable, probably very painful few days of illness for Lazarus, and even then Jesus didn’t reach his house until four days after he was laid to rest in his tomb. It really appears as if Jesus wasn’t in a hurry at all, and at face value it’s difficult to believe that Jesus cared much about his friend in this story.
When he finally does begin to make his way to the village where Lazarus had been living, Martha’s response captures me. She goes out to meet Jesus on the way, and she addresses him as her Lord. I can feel the pain in Martha’s voice as she says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”2 It’s not hard to imagine that if I were in her shoes, I would’ve been sobbing and screaming, and possibly trying to refrain from hitting Jesus with clenched fists. How could he do this? Why would he let me down like this if he says he cares? Where was he when I needed him most? The next words on Martha’s lips, however, are a beautiful expression of faith in the impossible. “But Jesus, I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”3
Why did Jesus choose to stay where he was instead of hurrying to Judea to help his dear friend? He said the wait was necessary, but in the same breath he assured the messenger that Lazarus’ sickness “would not end in death”: “No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”4 Imagine hearing those words and trying to decipher what they must mean. Does this mean that Jesus has promised that Lazarus wouldn’t die? Is Lazarus going to be okay? I imagine that, having received this news, Mary and Martha would have been hurt that Jesus didn’t come immediately, but at least comforted with the thought that Lazarus would not die, judging by the words Jesus spoke over the situation. Jesus can’t let Lazarus die, he’s his friend. God’s Son would be glorified through it, that meant that Lazarus would be healed, right? Imagine their disappointment and pain when they came to find that Jesus didn’t have the same plan they did. They might have felt deceived, cheated, definitely abandoned. Yet Martha knows Jesus, and she knows what he is capable of. Lazarus died, but his story would not end in death. Martha still holds onto the thread of hope that Jesus will do something to fix the situation.
Still standing outside the village, Jesus asks to see Martha’s sister, Mary. Mary sits at home, weeping over her deceased brother and suddenly hears Martha hurry in and say that Jesus is here. Mary gets up immediately, and is so quick to leave that her friends comforting her assume she must be going to Lazarus’ tomb to mourn there, so they follow her out. Seeing Jesus at the place where Martha had come to meet him earlier, her legs give way under her and she collapses at his feet in a puddle of grief, crying. She looks up and says the same thing that Martha said to Jesus earlier, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”5 Jesus sees Mary sobbing and the Jews who had followed her, who now are also wailing and crying, and he is deeply moved. Despite knowing that this isn’t the end of the story, the scene before him right now of so many people in so much pain troubles him. He asks, “Where have you laid him?” Through their tears Mary and her friends tell him to come and see, and at that moment Jesus’ inner pain overcomes him and pours out of him, and now we see the shortest verse in the bible, John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.” How profound that our Saviour weeps with his friends in their pain, in spite of knowing the joy to come afterwards. He hadn’t even seen Lazarus’ tomb yet, but the sheer sight of those whom he loved going through so much emotional turmoil drives him to tears and the Jews are recorded as remarking, “See how he loved him!”6.
Jesus goes to the tomb, asks the people to remove the stone that was laid across the entrance, and stands at the tomb calling Lazarus to come out – and he does come out! Still covered in heavily spiced linen that now smelled of decomposing flesh, Lazarus stumbles out into the daylight, and Jesus tells the Jews to remove the grave clothes and let him go.7 I imagine that Mary and Martha would have had a very tearful reunion with their recently resurrected brother that week. What a story, what a way to show the world what Jesus was capable of. And yet the story took pain, and it didn’t play out like the sisters had originally hoped it would.
At the moment I’m sitting in this cave, wondering what God is doing and when he’s going to call me to come out. He saw me “sick” many months ago and seemed not to come to my rescue, and since then my circumstances have worsened to the point where it does feel like I’ve died. I get up in the morning with the only real intention being to merely exist until I can go back to sleep again, waiting this darkness out and trusting that God will see me through to a better day. But I know that I’m not alone, and many people experience these valleys in their lives, these awful seasons. I also know that God has a plan, and although it hurts right now, there will be an end to this season and I will once again experience the joy I had before – perhaps not in the way I previously knew it, but joy nonetheless.
If you’re reading this and you feel like you can relate, please know that God hasn’t forgotten you. He knows that you’re hurting and he hurts along with you. Remember that he has a plan, and that plan is so much bigger than the things you can see with your own eyes right now. Hold on, and keep listening for his voice, even if the only thing you can hear in reply is silence. He is there, he is waiting and sometimes silence is necessary. Sometimes you need to wait and let yourself be silent in order to hear him. I promise you, though, he hasn’t forgotten you.
A few days ago I mustered up the mental capacity to fill out some forms and submit my Police Check application, and I received medical forms for approval by my GP so I can be cleared to go to Cambodia in June with Global Interaction. There’s not long to go now before I take off, and part of me wants to run away screaming, “But God, I’m not ready yet!”
I’ve realised, though, that people rarely ever feel “ready” for God to work through them. But he still does it, because through our brokenness God shows his greatness.
I wasn’t expecting to sit down and write all of this, but I’m glad I did. Perhaps this is part of forcing myself to just keep moving, even if it feels like only darkness lies ahead. Although I’ve been forgotten by some, I’ve by no means been forgotten by God.
Please pray for me in the coming weeks. Pray that I will keep persevering, even when things get difficult.
Please pray that the rest of my booking/application requirements will go smoothly and that I will be attentive to God’s voice in my life at this time. Pray that I will remember to listen, even if I can only hear silence.
Please also pray that I will learn to be content in my circumstances, even if they are not necessarily easy.
Thank you everyone for your support, and hopefully you will all hear better news from me soon.
1 John 11:5-6
2 John 11:21
3 John 11:22
4 John 11:4
5 John 11:32
6 John 11:36
7 John 11:38-44