I was reading the story of Lazarus and came across my favorite childhood Bible verse: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Just like thousands of other Sunday-school kids, it was my favorite because it was only two words—easy to memorize and quick points in any Bible memorization contest! I remember getting really irked at my friend Gina, who blurted it out before I had a chance to in a Bible drill. As a typical, lazy, Sunday-school kid (I went because my parents made me), I spent hardly any time on Scripture memorization and, sadly, even less time thinking about what the verses actually meant.
Why did he weep?
"Jesus wept" in the middle of the story of the death of Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was a good friend of Jesus, whom he hung out with and shared meals. Jesus knew his friend Lazarus was sick and, before it even happened, Jesus knew Lazarus was going to die. He also knew what would come next: He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He told his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up" (verse 11). When Jesus saw Mary and Martha and went to Lazarus's tomb, we see the famous two words: Jesus wept.
When we lose somebody we love, we cry. We can't imagine life without them. We desperately want them back. We cry for our loss and our heartache and the loneliness that already engulfs us. But Jesus knew he would see and talk with Lazarus again. What's even more curious about this story is that Jesus could have prevented the whole thing. The sisters Mary and Martha both acknowledged this when they somewhat accusingly said, "Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died" (verses 21, 32).
I've been reading this story over and over again, pondering it and marveling at the fact that I've never really pondered it before. I think it has big implications for us as moms and leaders. Jesus wasn't crying for himself, and his delayed arrival to Bethany wasn't because he'd lost track of time and forgotten about his friends. Instead, this account shows us that Jesus is moved by our heartbreak and he has a purpose for his timing.
God moves both fast and slow
I need to be honest and admit that sometimes I've wondered if God is paying attention. I've read the story of Jesus healing a blind man (Mark 10:46–52) and a leper (Matthew 8:1–4). Both of these men were healed instantly. They reached out to Jesus and, boom!, problem solved. It makes me wonder what's going on when I ask God to heal someone in my life and seemingly nothing happens. God, didn't you hear me? Why are you being so slow?
When our daughter was in middle school, she began to have anxiety attacks. We didn't know what they were at first, as she complained about chest pain and trouble breathing. I remember sitting at the doctor's office praying fervently, wondering if it were possible for a thirteen year old to have a heart attack. God, I know you love her more than I do. Please touch her body. I didn't sense an answer from God and my daughter kept having the same problems. God, are you doing anything at all?
He was, but not according to my timetable. I wanted those panic attacks to disappear. I didn't want my daughter to have to suffer through another one. I couldn't figure out why he didn't move and move right this instant. I'm sure Mary and Martha felt the same way. They knew Jesus could heal and wanted him to do it this time. In fact, Martha reminded Jesus, "I know that God will give you whatever you ask" (verse 22). I can so relate.
Sometimes God moves fast and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he moves in ways we can't even see. In the case of my daughter, he was doing big things in her heart (unbeknownst to her anxious momma). Our daughter was learning to trust a big God who didn't make the panic just disappear, but who walked alongside her through it. God had a plan and it was a good one. Today, she is a gifted, patient, compassionate young woman who can talk to others about anxiety and how it doesn't have to shut you down.
It must have seemed to Mary and Martha that Jesus had forgotten them. He didn't come in time and Lazarus died. Then he didn't even show up for four days. As a mom and a leader, I have felt like this too, wondering if God was even paying attention to what was needed and when it was needed. Yet John 11 reveals that Jesus knew every detail about the situation and that he wasn't a moment late. By raising Lazarus from the dead when he did, there wasn't a drop of uncertainty that it was God's work, and that God is big.
Jesus weeps with us
It's easy to read the Lazarus story quickly and think Jesus was weeping because he loved his friend Lazarus so much. Even the crowd thought this, commenting, "See how much he loved him!" (verse 36). But Jesus wasn't distraught for himself. He knew he would see his friend again in just a few moments! The story shows us that when he saw Mary and Martha and Lazarus's friends' distress, Jesus was moved to tears. He felt their despair and the overwhelming loneliness of losing a loved one. He knew their hearts were breaking, so his heart broke too. This is how much God loves us.
What does this mean for us as moms and leaders? As mothers, when our children hurt and it brings us pain, God hurts too. As leaders, when we make big mistakes or go through circumstances that threaten to crush us, God knows and he sheds tears right along with us. Even when we feel alone, we're not. We have someone working on our behalf; the Holy Spirit stands in the gap for us with wordless groans when our heartache is too big for words (Romans 8:26).
In those moments when leadership is hard and life with our kids seems overwhelming, it's great to be reminded that sometimes God moves fast and sometimes he moves slow, but he always moves. He not only sees our heartache and pain but he feels it with us. We can hold on to hope because we have a God who is working on our behalf even when we can't see it.
By Sherry Surratt
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