by Michele Mann
We met for an early (but not too early) breakfast. We chatted and laughed in between sips of caffeine ( because mid-morning is still morning). We discussed husbands and kids and ailing parents and busy lives. We talked about the struggle of trying to juggle an endless to do list with maintaining healthy relationships with Jesus and our husbands and our kids. She briefly mentioned a couple of struggles she was walking through, and then quickly added, “But I’m okay.” I nodded and listened for a few more minutes as she slowly stirred her coffee. She had to scoot out for an appointment, so I prayed for her and she darted out the door.
As I watched her leave, my heart sank. She most definitely wasn’t okay. She was drowning in the abyss between desire and expectation and reality. I’ve been there. It’s a hard place to live—made even harder when we fall prey to the lie that we have to hide our heartache. I’ve gone about my days with a placid smile and a sorrowful heart. I’ve said all those things a follower of Christ is supposed to say when life gets hard like, “God is faithful,” or “God’s got this,” or “God is good.” When all the while my mind and heart are wrestling with doubt and fear and wondering if God is really there, if He really cares. I want someone to tell me it’s okay to not be okay. I want someone to remind me that God is okay with me not being okay.
When I am in that dark and desperate place my mind wanders back to a trio of siblings. Three whose hearts were knit with each other and knit with the heart of the Messiah. They loved well. So well, in fact, that Jesus spent as much time with them as He could when He walked the earth. He made their little house in Bethany, just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem, His getaway. Even Jesus needed a quiet place to reflect and rest. And the siblings loved hosting Him. They knew He was the Savior of the world, but to them He was also a cherished friend.
So on that dark day when their brother became ill, the sisters knew whom to call. They expected Him to rush to their side. But the days passed and there was no sign of the Savior. Mary and Martha sat vigil by Lazarus’s bedside waiting, waiting for Jesus to come. But He did not. Lazarus took his last breath and the sister’s wept and mourned and still no Jesus.
Four days after the sisters laid their beloved brother in his tomb, Jesus arrived. Martha, the sister who was rebuked by Jesus for chiding her sister for sitting at His feet, was the first of the sisters to find Jesus. But Mary, the one who poured out her precious perfume at the feet of Jesus and sat at His feet and listened to Him for hours and hours, stayed home.
Martha met Jesus with words of a tested, but steadfast faith. “Lord if you had been here, our brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” But Mary sat at home in her grief. Her heart broken. Her eyes swollen with tears. Why had He waited so long? Why didn’t He save Lazarus? Mary was awakened from her anguish by her sister, who took her aside privately to tell her the Teacher was here and was calling for her. Mary quickly got up and made her way to him. Through her sorrow, she made the same statement to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she could not utter words of faith, her broken heart wouldn’t allow it. At that moment, Mary was at the end of herself, and was raw before her Messiah. She had no words, only tears. Jesus did not chastise her lack of faith or judge her honest words of despair. He did something so tender, so kind, so beautiful. He wept.
I’ve often thought back to this encounter when my heart is broken. What was it that broke the heart of Jesus? Was it simply His compassion for Mary? Was it His heartache that she had to suffer such agony in this sin-sick world? Was it His sorrow over the reality of death? Was it a combination of all these things? Whatever the reason, the comfort comes in knowing Jesus understood Mary’s pain and cried with her. And like Mary, when I come to the end of myself, I allow Jesus to reveal His glory. Mary found she could be real and raw before Jesus and He didn’t condemn her, He wept with her. He understood her pain and the depth of His love was revealed in more beauty and power than she could’ve ever imagined.
As time has passed, I’ve prayed much for my friend. I let her talk and encourage her to be honest before God. I tell her it’s okay to not be okay. I tell her it’s in those deepest, darkest, end of ourselves moments God is able to be to us exactly what we need Him to be—our Rescuer, our Redeemer, our Friend. Because it is not in our strength or our ability or our talent that we are made strong—in God’s strange, absurd, upside down world—it’s in our weakness, in our lack, that we find God is all we need. And He is okay with us not being okay. In fact, He welcomes our broken hearts.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9