“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” So say Martha and Mary, independently of one another, when Jesus finally arrives after they sent word to him that Lazarus was dying. The account is told in the eleventh chapter of John. Jesus received word of the impending death of his good friend Lazarus and, seemingly not all that concerned, stayed where he was for two more days. When he does finally arrive, Lazarus is now dead, and Mary and Martha are miffed. “Thanks a lot, Jesus. We told you he was dying and you didn’t even bother to come. Now everything is ruined. You could have kept this from happening but you didn’t.”
Jesus was in no big hurry to come to the dying Lazarus. And sometimes it feels like God is in no big hurry to sort out the things we bring to him in prayer. Relationships we know are broken are not quickly fixed when we ask for relief. Conflict keeps occurring even when we think we can’t take anymore. Our loved ones keep on struggling with their developmental issues. Illness doesn’t magically go away when we pray for healing. “If you had been here, none of this would have happened”, we come to think.
God does remarkable things in our lives. When we are at the very bottom of the pit, a little light appears and gives us hope. People with cancer and life-threatening illnesses suddenly get better. Relationships that have been crushed experience forgiveness and get even stronger than before they fell apart. Addictions dissolve and that which ruled a life is no longer there. People who felt they had no reason to go on living begin to see their purpose. Sometimes. But not always.
Every once in a while Mary Ward will say to me, in an attempt to remind me to communicate better, “I can’t read your mind.” I teasingly reply, “Well, actually the problem is that sometimes you can. If you never could, then I wouldn’t expect you to.” Sometimes God heals miraculously. And that becomes a problem for us. If he can do it sometimes, why not right now? We get miffed. “If you had been here, none of this would have happened.” We fall into thinking that God shows up here and there to do some healing but that he goes somewhere else most of the time to take care of other things. He’s like a superhero to us. We feel we have to send word to him and then wonder if he’ll get the message and be able to change into his costume in time to save the day.
I grew up thinking of God as up there. Up in heaven yes, but also up there in terms of excitement and breakthroughs and the various highs of life I came to associate with success. Sometimes life would propel me up there with him where I would feel deep connection and enlightenment. Or sometimes I could leap high enough, through effort or hard work, to feel his presence. It was an exciting, if only occasional, experience. God was in the highs, the remarkable, the unusual events.
One day during a time of meditation in an ordinary little chapel, I went through a significant shift. God, in that moment, was not in the highs. God was deep beneath me, under and around me, holding all things together, and allowing me to rest in him and his world. God was supporting everything rather than flying around above everything. I didn’t have to jump high or wait for him to swoop down. God was just present. The distance I had come to associate with God, interspersed with the occasional jolt of his presence, began to yield to an ever-present quietness. Desperate need yielded to deep calm.
Human relationships have to mature if they are to endure. They often begin with fireworks and words on top of words. A connection is established. Good relationships continue to have fireworks and words. But good relationships also bring an awareness that, in those times when there are no fireworks and more quietness, the relationship is still there. We tend to think it is only viable when the exciting highs are being experienced. But the relationship is there through the other times in life as well – the sad times, the dark times, the empty times, the times when we wonder if there is anything there at all. We give up the obsessive quest for connection and learn to trust the connection even when we are apart. It has a life apart from our making it work.
Jesus does show up for Lazarus. He is dead when Jesus does finally arrive in person. And Jesus calls him out of the tomb, raises him from the dead, gives life after all hope is lost. But it’s not like Jesus was absent when he didn’t get there on time. Jesus loved Lazarus, was present with him even while apart from him. He didn’t swoop down with magic dust and disappear again after he did his miracle. He was ever-present. That’s the miracle, not just the fixing of the problem, but the loving that goes on throughout. It’s eternal life we celebrate, not a little life here and there.
We come to God in desperate prayer. We get miffed when he doesn’t swoop down and do what we ask. And God keeps on loving us, holding us up through all we experience. God isn’t just up there. God is here, always and lovingly, sometimes so quietly it’s hard to tell, but always here, ever-present. Relax. Trust it. Belief is freedom and salvation.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Please attend one of the Stewardship Meetings scheduled during October, hear a brief presentation on the financial health of the parish, the Vestry’s vision for the year to come, and our opportunity to increase our commitment and grow closer to our loving Savior. The meetings will be held in the parish hall and will last about 30 minutes. Those unable to attend will be called on in their homes by canvassers. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt. 6.21).
Sunday, October 5, at noon
Thursday, October 9, at 5:00 pm
Sunday, October 12, at noon
Tuesday, October 14, at noon
Sunday, October 19, at noon