affected but unflinching
I have described our son, Baker, as a “big feeler” for as long as I can remember. When he was little, this looked mostly like intense frustration when he couldn’t turn the page of a book or get the blocks to stack high enough. But as he’s gotten older it looks more like reliving the day’s events right alongside of him. He played flag football this year and it has been a bright spot during a strange season as we lined the chain link fences on warm fall nights, cheering on our kids as they ran down the field. I had to miss one game to take my daughter to another event, but by the time I got home that evening I had received ten texts and five videos from my husband giving me a play-by-play of the game. I knew they won. I knew Baker scored. I knew how many flags he pulled. And while I felt fully up to speed on the evening, I had not heard it directly from Baker. So when he came barreling through the door, sweaty and eager, I pushed pause on what I already knew so that I could relive it with him. We reenacted plays, my face mirroring his, the story swelling and soaring towards the big win. It never crossed my mind to tell him I already knew about the game. Why is that? On the one hand, I wouldn’t dare rob him of the joy of getting to tell the story, but it’s more than that. I wanted to experience it with him, alongside him.
Jesus knew that, didn’t he? The value of being alongside us. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were like family to him, a home away from home even. Their exchanges are frank and familial, none more so than when Jesus comes to see Mary and Martha after their brother, Lazarus, has died. In the eleventh chapter of the book of John, we see Jesus receive the news that Lazarus is on the verge of death. It goes on to say that Jesus loved Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus so when he received news of Lazarus’ infirmity he stayed away. I don’t know about you but I take issue with that. If he loved them so much why didn’t he run to their side, prevent Lazarus from dying and then serve up the fattened calf in celebration of a disaster averted? That’s what I would have done. But it turns out I don’t know much about what love looks like. Or perhaps I’m not all that familiar with what my heart really needs.
As Jesus enters Bethany, Mary and Martha run to him and lodge their complaint through breathless sobs, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I keep waiting for Jesus to relieve them of their pain, to tell them something along the lines of “Chin up, sister! I’m getting ready to bring him back to life!” But he doesn’t. He continues to let their pain run its course. And not only does he let it runs its course, he joins them in it. As he looks at Mary and Martha and Lazarus, cold and dead in the tomb, something wells up inside of him. It’s an emotion I am only vaguely acquainted with, something like compassion swirled together with anger. And Jesus weeps. The gut-level compassion for his surrogate sister, mixed with outright rage that death has cast a shadow on all that he holds dear, finds him weeping at the tomb. He is moments away from calling Lazarus back to life and yet is so highly committed to the present moment, hitting pause on what he already knows in order to grieve with Mary and Martha in the here and now.
If I had it my way I would still prefer a Jesus who shows up just before Lazarus dies. But I don’t have to look very far to see that’s not his way. What we have instead is a Jesus who allows suffering to run its course. Sometimes it feels like I have to look at my life through squinted eyes as I try to find the whys behind it all. Yes, Jesus allowed Lazarus to die and for immeasurable grief to enter the lives of the ones he loved. But he didn’t leave them alone in that. He pressed pause on the story and inserted himself into their grief, affected but unflinching, allowing them to feel seen and safe all at once. It is what their hearts needed.
It’s what my heart needs, too, and my son’s for that matter. To have someone enter the here and now, affected but unflinching. Moved by my grief, elated by my joy, and unwaveringly committed to my ultimate good. Someone who would honor my present but not be limited by it. And I don’t have to squint to find that someone. He’s there, at the tomb of all that I grieve.
Kristin Leathers began work as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in 2008 and became a member of Barnabas Triad in 2019. In addition, she has worked for Young Life for 14 years. She earned her MA in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degree from Meredith College. Kristin has been married for 17 years to her husband, Eric, and together they have two children. Kristin enjoys being with her friends, playing games, exercising, and all things related to home design. She is proud of her family, her work, and to be rounding out her third time through all seasons of Downton Abbey.