In the last moments of writing this post, my daughter, who is working at the table across from me, accidentally bumped my foot. Jokingly, I said, “Hey, that’s unacceptable,” and jokingly in response, she turned down her mouth into a pout as if what I’d said had made her very sad. While I knew she was kidding, the look on her face prompted such sympathy in me anyway that I had to say, “No! I love you! You’re the best!” and I got up to give her a big hug. When she looked up next, she displayed her bright, cheerful smile, and I knew I had to write about this moment because it reminded me of what Jesus does with us. He sees our sadness and our joys and he feels pure, true love back for us, no matter what.
This week we focused on how God sees us, and read through a small sample of passages that showed Jesus seeing others and acting in love back. While noticing this throughout the week, two phrases also caught my attention:
If only . . .
Even now . . .
These are the words I kept hearing and noticing. They come up in John 11:1-44, and because I continued to hear them, I figured I needed to write about them.
“If only” came up twice, once from Martha and once from Mary, with each of them saying the same thing: “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Martha is the one who quickly shifts her thoughts and says in verse 22, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” And although Mary doesn’t say this, we see her at Jesus’s feet, weeping, and we see Jesus SEE her.
He doesn’t see her and walk away. He doesn’t see her and ignore her. He sees her and is deeply troubled, even though he knows the reason for her sadness is about to be removed.
The thing Martha and Mary don’t realize when they say “If only,” that we as readers of this story have the privilege of discovering quite quickly in the passage, is that Jesus had a plan to raise Lazarus, and he did. He does the miraculous thing that no one would have imagined possible, causing the many people who witnessed it to believe in him.
Jesus had a plan, a plan for good. He had a knowledge, a knowledge no one else had. He had power, power that was undeniably God.
So, here’s what I ask myself: What are my “if only” thoughts, and what are my “even now” proclamations?
Eugene Peterson says in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction,
“The only serious mistake we can make when illness comes, when anxiety threatens, when conflict disturbs our relationships with others is to conclude that God has gotten bored looking after us and has shifted his attention to a more exciting Christian, or that God has become disgusted with our meandering obedience and decided to let us fend for ourselves for a while, or that God has gotten too busy fulfilling prophecy in the Middle East to take time now to sort out the complicated mess we have gotten ourselves into. That is the only mistake we can make.”
While I don’t think Mary and Martha doubted who Jesus was, and I don’t think they were disrespectfully saying “If only you had been here,” I do wonder whether their sadness and understandable distress over the loss of their brother created a moment of question about why Jesus hadn’t done things the way they expected. Perhaps, similar to what Eugene Peterson said, they felt a little dismissed or unheard or unimportant. In reality, they were as important and loved as they thought they were when they first called out for Jesus to help, and they always would be that important and loved. He knew what they needed, and he knew the best way to help them and everyone else present in the situation.
I may not recall ever saying to God, “If only you had been here,” but I do know there have been plenty of times when I’ve been unclear about what he’s doing, and to be honest, there have also been times when I’ve wondered if he was handling things that were much more important than what I was going through. Also, I’ve been annoyed with myself for worrying about things that I’ve prayed about, and wondered if he was maybe a little frustrated with my doubts that he’s got these situations covered. Psalm 139 reminds me that in all of these times, with any of these thoughts, I couldn’t possibly be more or less loved, and therefore, I simply need to trust and say over these doubts “Even now” I believe you hear me, you see me, you know what’s happening in my life and what is best.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do
You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! (Psalm 139:3-6)
What are your “If only’s?” What are you going through and calling out to God to help you with? I pray we all can claim “even now,” over these. I pray we can remember that Jesus chose an unexpected way of answering Mary and Martha and that we can expect the same in our situations. When things aren’t happening in the way we expect or in the timing we desire, may we simply see the face of our loving Jesus, the one who sees us, weeps with us, and answers us in the most beautiful and perfect ways.
Have a blessed weekend, whether traveling or resting, with Jesus before you, following you, and laying his hand of blessing on your head.