Sometimes I think it’s too late. Sometimes I think that the things I give to God over and over again were windows that have long-since closed.
It’s amazing how much resistance I get to this sort of talk when I bring it up. People tell me that God is great and powerful and that He deals in the impossible. They tell me that I am young and that these things that I hope for can happen at any time.
When this happens, I think about how much easier it is to believe for someone else.
I have a friend who is hoping, literally against hope right now. When we get together, I tell her true, bold things that I believe. We cry, in the beauty and the perceived hopelessness, but I know that my words are grounded in who God is.
She turns this on me, over coffee, sitting in her car, over the phone or through a text. She tells me about her prayers for me and I get chills.
There are times when I am good at believing God. There are times when I wake up and all is right and I feel safe in His arms. There are times when trust is not an uphill battle.
But if I’m honest, most of the time I need my friend, and others like her, to surround me with belief, just as I do for them.
It’s easy to believe for them. I’m hoping that with enough practice, it will one day be easy to believe for me.
There is a lot of Christian talk about how God is right on time. We talk about His perfect timing and we talk about how He is not slow, even when it seems like it to us.
I know that this is true, but sometimes I wish that I had a panic button or a safe word.
Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.
Sometimes, I think it’s just too late.
In the Advent story, it is easy to see the beauty in Jesus’ coming. We watch Mary wait, we rejoice with Elizabeth as she gets ready to have a baby in her old age. It was not too late. Jesus was on time.
But did it seem like that, then?
Years and years had passed since the time of the prophets. The original hopers were dead. I know from experience that it’s hard to keep hoping, even when there are small glimmers.
Were there small glimmers?
It’s easy to get used to the familiar pull and pinch of longing so that it’s hardly noticed.
If you’ve been reading long, it won’t surprise you that I’ve been thinking about Martha. Her story has captivated me this year, and in this season of Advent, heady with longing and pain and coming, I’ve been thinking about her once again.
By the time we get to the 11th chapter of John, Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus has been well-established. It makes sense that Mary and Martha would send word to Jesus when their brother fell ill. Jesus gets the message and does the opposite of what I would have wanted Him to do: “So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.” (John 11:6).
There was no email, no texting, no phone calls. Jesus didn’t write on Martha’s Facebook wall and tell her not to worry: “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” (John 11:4).
There was silence. There was waiting. Then, there was death.
Our darling little yellow house is back on Craig’s List today. This time, there’s a picture, so it’s likely to rent fast.
There were a few things that needed to fall into place for us to get it, and they didn’t.
It’s easy to get discouraged about this, to feel that we missed out. For someone like myself, seeing metaphor everywhere, it’s easy for that lovely, charming house to represent the book I’d like to write, the marriage I’d like to have, the hopes that lie inside of me, beautiful, but throbbing.
It’s easy to think that it’s too late.
But Jesus comes.
Lazarus has been dead four days when He gets there and Martha runs to meet Him.
“Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.”
Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.”
Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”
“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”
I included this version because I tend to think like Martha did. I tend to think that when people tell me that everything will be okay, that they mean that everything will be okay in the end. But Jesus says something completely different. He says: You don’t have to wait for the End.
I worry sometimes about hoping and dreaming for good things in the here and now. I’m frank about this with God. Sometimes we have to talk about my tendency to become a martyr.
The hope that I harbor, should the fulfillment burst upon me, would overwhelm me to the point that I couldn’t speak (those of you who know me understand what a huge deal that is).
Incidentally, that’s what happened to Zechariah.
It seems unholy to long for temporal things like romance, friendship, the way it feels when you know that someone is crazy about you.
I have friends who are praying for love, for babies, for houses and jobs and cars. Their prayers don’t seem less than because they are praying for things that will happen tangibly.
Jesus could have left things where they were. He knew that regardless of His actions that day, Mary and Martha and Lazarus would die. In the not-so-distant future they would be together once again, this time forever. He could have left Martha to wait.
But He didn’t.
He went to the newly filled tomb and asked Lazarus to come out.
It’s not unexpected for me, anymore. I know this story, I know about what Jesus has in store. I can hear the deep meaning in His words as He speaks to Martha.
But she can’t.
She clings to her faith, making an amazing declaration, even in the throes of grief. She is still faithful, even in the midst of too late. Until it isn’t too late, anymore.