In the Midst of Despair

9:58 AMHeather

So, here I am blogging along, chronicling my recent teachings on Sabbath Living that I originally brought to an amazing group of ladies at Moose Lake Gospel Camp in Alberta, Canada last month.  These teachings are all laid out, and I've just been plugging along in order, missing a day to blog here or there, and starting several weeks past when I had originally intended.

So, today's blog post material just "happened" to fall on August 26th.  What's the big deal, you ask?  Well, today, we are taking a look at Mary at the feet of Jesus again.  The second time in Scripture that we see her there, in fact.  And while the first time happened during a joyful visit with Jesus in her home, this time happens in the midst of her greatest sorrow.  Her deepest despair. 

She helps us answer the question about how to choose to sit at the feet of Jesus even when our world is falling apart.  When hardship and suffering interrupt our pleasant practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus as we listen to his teaching. Then what?

Today, we will answer this question. August 26.  Today would have been my dad's seventy-second birthday.  While I lost my dad twenty-four years ago, those who grieve never lose sight of these milestones-- the birthdays and anniversaries.  It's true that over time, the sharpness of the pain dulls to an ache.  And yes, there have been birthdays and anniversaries that passed rather uneventfully.  Especially in light of the torture they brought in the first few years.

But how fitting that today, I ask you to journey with me to take a look at a grieving, distraught Mary.  I believe that's a rather fitting tribute to the godly Dad I had for my first nineteen years.

The truth is that I am not the only one who has seen hardship. We will all face suffering.  John 16:33 says that in this world we WILL have trouble.  I know the troubles of many of you.  I've tried to walk the roads of grief and loss and sickness and trials with those in my life, motivated by my own experience of those who dared to get messy in the mud of my own dark times.  For those of you that I don't know personally, know that my heart still aches for those who face brokenness.  I'm tender to it. I've survived it.

Which is exactly why I put off reading Angie Smith's personal account of carrying her daughter who was diagnosed with in-utero conditions that were "incompatible with life."  I first read Angie's blog Bring the Rain shortly after her Audrey was born and died.  It was hard.  I lost a nephew who was stillborn.  I had gone through a miscarriage myself.  I've worked with infertile couples for twenty years.  I just needed to get to a place where I felt ready to tackle the book I Will Carry You. So, after I heard Angie speak at the IF Gathering in February, I thought I was ready to hear more of her journey through grief.

I am so glad that I did.  Because lo and behold, Angie's lifeline during her pregnancy was John 11.  I devoured Angie's insight, and it truly was only in hindsight that I had the epiphany that Mary was once again seen, at the feet of Jesus, and this time was during her darkest night.

Please take a moment and read John 11:1-44.  Yep.  All the verses.  It'll be worth it, I promise.

First, I want to dig a bit into these verses by making notes, verse by verse, and by asking some questions for you to ponder.

--John 11:1-3  What was the message that the sisters sent to Jesus?

--John 11:4-6  How long did Jesus stay where he was?

--John 11:7-10  When does a man stumble, according to these verses? Who do we know is the Light of the world, even in darkness?

--John 11:14  How did Jesus have to speak to the disciples to get them to understand the situation?

--John 11:20  Which sister came to Jesus?  And, who stayed home and avoided him?

--John 11:21-24  What was Martha's approach to Jesus?  In verse 22, do we see more of her making demands of Jesus, as in Luke 10:39-42?

--John 11:25-27  What startling new revelation about himself did Jesus offer Martha?

--John 11:28-29  Pure speculation.  But why do you think that Mary held back until Jesus asked her to come?

--John 11:30-31  Just put a finger on this verse.  We will come back to it.

--John 11:32  Where is Mary? Where does she fall, in the midst of her despair?

Listen, bloggy friends, I know that I can talk about Sabbath living all day long and invite you to stay at the feet of Jesus as you go through your days.  But it's a whole different story when it comes to the places in life that bring us to our knees.  These times of suffering are our ultimate test.  This is where the rubber meets the road and we are truly tested as to whether we can Sabbath live and stay at his feet and take his yoke upon us. 

Can we surrender and hand our burdens over, quit burden bearing, even THERE?  Even when tragedy or trials come?

Just as Mary led the way to show us to move out of the kitchen duty and past the serving and anxiety and troubled feelings in the daily grind, she is leading the way here. She offers us a profound example of the sacred practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus.  EVEN or maybe, particularly, in the midst of our storms.

Let's look at these take-away lessons.  And let's be encouraged.

1.  Angie Smith pointed out in her book that the sisters reached out to Jesus in their time of need by simply stating the problem. They did not direct him as to solutions.  They offered no complicated ritual or special prayer.  Just, "Here's the problem, Lord."  This implies a deep trust in his ability to work a solution.  This shows us that they believed him to be powerful and sovereign.  What if we just simply expressed our problems to Jesus? And believed him to be sovereign enough and "for us" enough to fix things?

2. Then, the sisters waited.  They waited for Jesus to show up and solve the problem.  They didn't chase him down or bombard him with additional messages.  They waited for him to meet their need.  They were, in other words, BEING STILL.  They knew that he was God.  They remained in place.  This ability to remain and be still is surely born from a loving and grace-filled relationship with Jesus, learned from the practice of sitting at his feet and learning his teachings.  Mary was able to be still.

3.  Both of these sisters genuinely, authentically and honestly poured out their emotions and grief with Jesus.  No pretenses. 

4.  Martha spoke to Jesus and questioned him.  She was not afraid to ask why.  She asked Jesus to request of God who could give him anything.  And Jesus was just fine with the questions. 

5. Jesus answered Martha.  He gave her a fresh revelation of new promises and insight into who he was.  In our darkest moments, we can still -- or particularly -- grasp who Jesus really is. 

6.  Mary asked the EXACT same question of Jesus that her sister did.  They said the exact same thing--"If you had been here, my brother would not have died."  But Mary took a different posture.  Mary's approach shows a difference in her relationship with Jesus.  For she threw herself at his feet.  She prostrated herself.

7.  Not only did Mary throw herself at Jesus' feet, but she wept openly there.  She held no emotion back.

8.  Here's the miracle.  Here's what I do not want you to miss.  No matter your heartache or troubles.  You need to hear this loudly and clearly.  Because this truth offers sustaining strength in the midst of your suffering.  When we cling to the all powerful Savior and pour out our weeping heart, he weeps with us.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

Listen, Jesus wept may be the shortest verse in the Bible, but it's also one of the most powerful.  

Jesus didn't weep for Lazarus.  We know from the beginning of John 11 that Jesus was fully aware of how this would play out.  No, Jesus wept because he was so moved by the pain that his precious Mary was feeling. He knew what was coming, but still, he wept with Mary.

The only thing worse than crying is crying all alone with no one to console you.

Let me be clear.  As a child of God, you NEVER cry alone.  Because your Savior weeps with you.  Because of his great love and affection for you.

When the tears just won't stop and we are beyond the ugly cry, we can find a lifeline with the reminder that our Jesus weeps with us.  We can throw ourselves at his feet and weep away, and there, we must remember that his tears for us can stain the darkness with hope. 

Before we part today, I want to offer one more very important insight from this precious passage of John 11.  I asked you to hold your finger on John 11:30-31.

Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.  When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 

Listen, I don't know who these Jews are, but I absolutely love them.  I want them, in fact, to be my friends.  I long for them in my life.

Because these are the friends I want in my suffering.  These friends comforted Mary and stayed with her.  They weren't afraid of her grief.  In fact, they stayed so near to her that when they supposed she was going to the tomb to mourn, they followed her.  Just as Jesus did.

Have you ever stood by a fresh grave?  There, the pain is so raw and overwhelming that most people move from tears to a gut wrenching time of mourning.  And it's a rare lot of friends who will surround such a mourner and stay near.

Here me quite clearly. If you are a follower of Christ, this type of friendship is not optional.  We are, in fact, as a church commanded in Romans 12:15 to rejoice with those rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Not when it's easy or convenient.  Not when it suits our fancy or we are in the mood.  

We are commanded to stay so near the hurting that when they get up to mourn, even at the tomb, we get up and follow.

Let's not be so afraid of getting dirty that we won't enter the muddy trenches of the suffering of others.

No matter which side of the equation you stand on, learn this lesson.  If you are mourning, then receive the help and support that God intended the body of Christ to offer.  Ask for it.  Expect it.  Pray for it.  

If you know someone hurting and suffering, then get your hands dirty.  Because those who suffer and carry a burden beyond their abilities are counting on their brothers and sisters to carry the burden with them.  Ugly cry and all.  Don't be scared away.

Just follow the example of Jesus.

For Jesus was so moved by the pain of his friend that he wept unashamedly.

Blog post #9 in a series: Sabbath Living:  Sitting at the Feet of Jesus.

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