Friends First – Miracles Second
Through many years as a Christian I have heard the story of Lazarus in many sermons. It seems to be a universal bible story that most people, however unfamiliar with the bible, are at least faintly acquainted with. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. That was a great thing. It was an unexpected mercy that God showed to Mary and Martha that day. But there is another part of this story that I have never thought about before or even seen before in scripture until recently, one that I have not heard preached before. When I stumbled upon this I was so excited to share this with you, dear reader! It gives the framework to a message very deep in my heart that I have wanted to write but had not, until now, found words for.
Here is part of the story in scripture (John 11, NASB, emphasis mine):
30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. 31 Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and [h]was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, [i]have kept this man also from dying?”
38 So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 44 The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
There the two words cropped up that I had never seen before in this story, nor heard highlighted by others: Jesus wept. Why would Jesus weep? Jesus knew, being all-powerful God in a body, that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew that in a moment more the tears would be wiped away and that there would be rejoicing! He, who saw the bigger picture of what His Father in heaven was doing, was “moved in spirit and was troubled” and wept.
This has revealed more to me about the heart of Jesus than any other thing recently. Mary and Martha were considered friends of Jesus. Jesus stayed at their home and seemed to be comfortable in their presence. He had built a bridge of relationship with them strong enough to hold spoken truth (when he commended Mary for sitting as his feet and admonished Martha for being too busy). These were friends of his. And Jesus was a true friend.
It is no foreign concept that during good times friends are abundant but in tough times to find a friend is to find a treasure. People are afraid, specifically in our western culture, to connect emotionally to pain. And we all have done it or partaken in this kind of awkward friendship-encounter before. We’ve been to funerals were we awkwardly shook the hands of the mourning at a complete loss for words, brimming with anxiety to get out as quickly as possible. We’ve kept our distance knowing a friend is struggling with cancer because we just don’t quite know what to say or what they need (often telling ourselves if they need us they will reach out). We’ve often been a part of basing friendships on “doing things together” rather than connecting over a cup of tea and scripture because those dreaded-loch-ness-emotions may rear their heads and we wouldn’t know what to do with them. Emotions are difficult and it is much easier to shove them down and keep moving than facing the truth and the fears that our friends are facing with them. Western culture has taught us to be ruled by our head and not our emotions which surely does have its benefit but I often wonder, since God created emotions, what the downside of that is.
Many years ago therapists and counselors were few and far between, not to mention unattainable. My grandmother Duncan always said, “We didn’t have counselors but we had true friends. And we talked.” I am not at all discrediting counseling or therapists, I also see a therapist from time to time and work through many of the effects of trauma, but since surrounding myself with true friends I have been able to see God’s healing come in a new and living way.
As a disabled person I come across a lot of issues that simply do not have answers. There are insurance battles (like the one I am in now) and there are financial burdens that no matter how much we tighten our belt we cannot meet. There are bodily phantom pains that I can’t explain and emotional stress that causes duress. One thing that my husband and I have found over and over throughout our journey is that “people just don’t get it.” They don’t want to because it can be scary. To see an amputee pushing through and struggling is scary. “Could this happen to me? What would I do if I could not control my life?”, they think. When someone has broken a foot or ankle they approach me with respect saying things like “I have no idea how you do this every day, this is SO hard!” They connect with me emotionally and reach out sharing their hardships and their pain and seek reassurance in knowing I’ve been down the road they travel. And it is true, but when the caste comes off and they are back to living life as normal they move on and no longer remember that my situation is permanent and will not go away. Suddenly, to connect emotionally is taboo. To hear about or see a struggle of mine is overwhelming again and scary so it must be quickly dismissed with a superficial solution or a religious label like “keep on praying”, “God provides”, “someone is always worse off”, or “where there is a will there is a way”. All true, but the emotions of the struggle are still there and still real and sometimes we just need someone to WEEP with us and then REJOICE with us.
Of course my article is going to use my own life as an example but the reality is that wherever I go people say things to me like, “I just want to be heard, I don’t want anyone to
fix it.” Have you felt this way? Have you had a need to vent and be understood? While my writing will reflect my personal life it is also reflecting the general atmosphere around me in what I hear people saying. People are increasingly replacing connecting on a heart-level with superficial acquaintances.
Job is someone that needed to be heard. In the book of Job we read about how he lost everything, more than I can even imagine losing. He needed friends and needed to be heard but his friends met with him and they had suggestions for him. They suggested Job had sin in his life. They suggested that Job wasn’t living right. They claimed that God does not cause the just to suffer. They told him exactly how to appeal to God for mercy. They were busy suggesting things to do and ignoring the pain of Job’s heart. Job replies in chapter 6:14-17, 24-26:
14 “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend
forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
15 But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
as the streams that overflow
16 when darkened by thawing ice
and swollen with melting snow,
17 but that stop flowing in the dry season,
and in the heat vanish from their channels.
24 “Teach me, and I will be quiet;
show me where I have been wrong.
25 How painful are honest words!
But what do your arguments prove?
26 Do you mean to correct what I say,
and treat my desperate words as wind”
Under the covenant of law and condemnation there is no room for grace or true friendship. There is only what you do and what you don’t do correctly. Under the covenant of Jesus, of grace, there is in place of that who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. (Concept Influenced by Joseph Prince preachings.) Job’s friends were there physically for him but they were so focused on the law of Moses and so afraid to imagine (oh the horrors, what if this happened to them?!) that a good person could be suffering for no cause of their own that they weren’t there for Job’s heart. They weren’t hearing him and standing beside him, they had distanced themselves from him and had become onlookers to his pain rather than friends.
But Jesus, being a true friend, wept with Mary and Martha and the others present. He wasn’t afraid to feel the pain of his friends and be moved by their pain and experience that pain alongside of them. In this case, Jesus even had the answer! Most of us don’t have the answer when our friends are in pain. We can only mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those that rejoice knowing that Jesus paid the price for resurrection and victory over death. But if Jesus wasn’t afraid to connect emotionally and allow Mary and Martha to be truly heard in the depths of their hearts why are we afraid to connect with one another? Is this perhaps one of the reasons that friends are so few and far between in this age of technology and busyness? Is this why millions of us pay therapists and counselors to simply allow us to talk and provide reasonable “out of the box” guidance in our life? I wonder.
In the book “Safe People” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend there is a great section on friendships (p.166), they write:
“Friends give us what we need in the areas of acceptance, support, discipline, modeling, and a host of other relational ingredients that produce change. But in picking good friendships that produce growth, several qualities are important:
acceptance and grace
mutual struggles, although they do not have to be the same ones
both parties need other support systems as well to avoid the same kind of toxic dependency on each other that led to the problems
familiarity with the growth process where both parties have ‘entered in’ and have some knowledge of the process so as to avoid the blind leading the blind
mutual interest and chemistry, a genuine liking
an absence of ‘one-up and one-down’ dynamics
both parties in a relationship with God
honesty and reality instead of ‘over spiritualizing’
an absence of controlling behavior
Friendships of this kind are an absolute must for our spiritual growth.”
As I read through this list I am again struck by Jesus’ willingness to weep and to allow Mary and Martha (and the others) to experience the fullness of their emotions without trying to put a cap on it. He could have stopped them and said, “Oh ye of little faith!” or even simply tried to comfort them and stop them from shedding tears with pats on the shoulder and comments of, “There, there now, don’t cry, it’s going to be OK. It’ll work out”. But Jesus didn’t do any of that. He didn’t over-spiritualize their pain or admonish their faith. He didn’t hush them up or control their behavior. He didn’t insist God is in control and knows best/has a purpose. Instead He provided acceptance and grace, a genuine liking of them, a loving confrontation of weeping with them right where they were.
I want to be a friend like Jesus. I want to weep with those who weep…even when I know God is in control and he will work out each thing to the good of those that love him (Romans 8:28).
I want to stand there and hug a friend that is having a hard time and cry with her and not have to shoo away the emotions and the tears. I want to be there for those that have been strong and courageous in battle with the Lord but yet are in a place where there is no logical explanation for their suffering. How about you? Do you want to be a friend like Jesus was?
I have a friend like this. Her name is Maribel. Right now my insurance company does not want to pay any more than 50% for my prosthetic leg. This will leave my husband an I with more than $10,000 a year out-of-pocket expenses just to keep me walking (not counting my other medical
expenses like hearing aids, medications, doctor visits, etc.) I have been so sad about that because it means that I may not have a fake leg after this one breaks. While I will do my best to partner with God and see what I can work out (including contacting politicians), it is still hard and it is heartbreaking. Why, after surviving cancer and nearly dying, fighting for 27 years to be healthy and live with an amputation, having to struggle through daily life to perform even the most basic tasks in an adapted and often difficult/stressful way, do I still have to suffer? This is real life, this is hard! Some have told me that I am not believing right, I do not have enough faith, I am not doing enough. Some have pointed out that I should do what I have to even if it involves acquiring an everlasting debt of finances just to walk. Some have said I need to sit back and do absolutely nothing but pray because that is true trust. Basically, as mentioned above, people say anything to avoid connecting to the truth and the reality that there is suffering happening and I am grieving a loss of something. They will try to fix it quickly and justify the situation in their minds to soothe their fear and avoid the reality that sometimes there isn’t an answer. Many “friends” will do anything to brush off the pain and find a quick solution so they themselves are never forced to stop and realize that they could be in my situation one day. After all, what does a four-year old child do wrong to deserve cancer and amputation?
One friend though, wept for me. She has known me for many years and known the depth of my struggle. She rejoiced with me when we married a month apart, as we purchased our first home, as I garden and can. I rejoice with her as she sends updates on her wonderful sons and sees a marriage ever-growing in Christ’s love. We meet every so often and we pray and lift up the desires of our heart to God together in agreement. We laugh and we cry together, we share and we care. When she learned of what I am facing she cried and she mourned with me. She didn’t try to fix it or to brush the pain under the carpet, no, she had tears. She knows God is faithful and that He will show me the way (so she didn’t even try to rationalize it). And when the tears were over she promised to walk this journey with me and told me that we would do whatever it took, one leg or two.
This happened to me two days after I read this story about Lazarus. Yes, the story where Jesus was first and foremost a friend, then a miracle worker. The story that reminded me that he cares for us (1 Peter 5) and that God weeps with us when we are struggling in this fallen world. The story that sends me, like Mary, to the feet of my friend Jesus. And when I get up, and experience the compassion of true friendship and of having one mourn with me as I mourn, may I have the same love for my friends as they journey and face difficulties as well.