Bartimaeus and Me
It became obvious, after I finished writing last week's Single Minded Monday post, that this one would need to follow.
Again, I find myself sharing from my experience. These are churches I've been to, people I've met, conversations that I still bring before God. For better, or worse, they have shaped and informed me.
I don't share these things so that we can sit, alone together, a clump in a corner, talking about what shouldn't be. I say these things so that we can dream, in a spacious place, about what can be, and what God has promised to do: make all things new.
It's hard to put my finger on the first time I heard it. I can't remember if it was after a break-up, or after one crush or another made it clear that he wasn't interested.
"He wasn't worth it," she said (for it was always a "she") "you know that this just means that there is someone better out there for you."
Perhaps this is standard. Textbook: "comfort for the recently dumped." For a long time, I nodded when I heard those words. I spoke them myself. I believed them.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Bartimaeus, the blind beggar from Mark 10 (as well as Luke 18 and Matthew 20). There are a few striking things about the story, but for some reason, I can't stop thinking about the question Jesus asks. The beggar has called out to Him, Jesus has responded (against all odds) asking that he be brought near and then Jesus asks him: "What do you want me to do for you?"
They are simple words, really. And it is easy for me to hear this story, knowing what is coming next, and think the answer obvious. He's blind, I think, why wouldn't he want to see? Of course that's what he says.
But when I stop for a moment, I realize that the answer isn't as obvious as I think it is. Bartimaeus is blind, yes, but Luke also lets us know that he is begging. He is poor, likely hungry. But he doesn't ask for wealth, or food.
He must have heard the stories, must have known that Jesus has fed thousands of people, that He can pluck coins from the mouths of fish. Asking for money or food from Jesus would not have been far-fetched.
But he doesn't, he asks to see.
When I've met people at church, they ask me if I'm married, if I have children. The lack of any physical evidence does not seem to bother them. I tell them no, and, failing that, they ask if I have anyone special in my life.
I do not, of course, tell them that I have many special people in my life. I have learned that this is not the answer that they are looking for. As with the difference between "like" and "like like" which I learned when I began talking about boys, I have learned that the word "special" means something different in this context.
When clarity dawns, I am met often with: "Now why isn't a girl like you married?" or "Don't worry, you're still young."
When Jesus tells Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well, he begins to see immediately. In the same sentence, he begins to follow Jesus.
He sees and follows. Following is the consequence of seeing.
I sit in church, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, or family. It is impossible not to notice her, stroking her husband's back, nearly massaging him. They are married, I know, and there is nothing wrong with what she is doing, I suppose. Still, I find myself wondering how either of them can keep their mind on the service, on God.
I certainly have trouble doing so.
Other couples catch my attention around me. She whispers in his ear, he puts a protective arm around her. They laugh, he squeezes her shoulder during worship, they take communion, holding hands, facing each other.
I am beginning to wonder if temple segregation was less about sexism and more about distraction.
When the Lord opens my eyes, as He does, from time to time, I have a choice about how I will respond.
Had He come to me, when I called to him, even a year ago, asking what I wanted Him to do for me, I might have asked Him for a husband, my own version of earthly food, earthly riches.
I don't think that I would have asked for sight.
I look around the church, and I see classes for new marrieds and young parents. They process into worship, each week, two by two. I see leadership, all of them wearing wedding rings.
Lately, as I read the Bible, I can't stop seeing the single people. (And not in the cliched "Jesus was single" way, although that is true). I think of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, all living together under one roof in Bethany. I think of Hagar, of Naomi, Rahab, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, and Paul.
Bartimaeus himself was likely single, I can't help thinking.
Not being there, I can't know for certain that these women, and men, didn't have spouses hanging about. If they existed, they are not mentioned.
I did not ask for sight, but it was given to me. I am seeing my path, like Bartimaeus, and I too am following Jesus, His words to Martha ringing in my ears: "Only one thing is necessary."
For a while now, I’ve been writing Single Minded Mondays in this space. My hope is that these words will be an encouragement and a challenge both to those who are single, and those who are not.
I always appreciate fresh eyes and perspectives. (I love talking with others who "see"). I’d love to hear from you, in the comments, by email or on social media regarding these or other topics. And it is always an amazing honor when you all share my writing with those you know.
Thanks again for reading, sharing, commenting, pondering and praying. It truly means the world.
[photo credit, remix by Cara Strickland]