I always try to start January fresh. Whether I’m holding on to a bit of nostalgia over the end of the past year, or refusing to linger there a moment longer than I have to, I love the feeling of a fresh month, with the promise of eleven more to come.
But not this year.
This year, I dragged my feet from late December into fresh January, hoping to find that clean slate. But it wasn’t there. Instead of freshly sharpened pencils and crisp calendars, it was more sorrow, heartbreak and pain. No amount of goal lists or journaling prompts would change that. January was staring me in the face, and she looked a lot like December.
I am uncomfortable with hard things that drag on for a long time. I dislike seeing things pile up on top of each other in my life, so that I am struggling to see the sun. I don’t think that I’m alone in this. I think that most of us are uncomfortable with prolonged pain.
In the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about falling apart. I’ve learned that when I’m breaking, bursting at the seams, that I need to do it, even though it’s the very last thing I want to do. It is only then that something begins to come of it, somehow, that’s when the troops are rallied, even if all they do is sit around me while I cry.
But that’s not always when Jesus comes.
If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know that I love Martha. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her story, in John 11, lately, as I’ve been looking around at my own life. She and her sister are mourning in the aftermath of her brother’s burial. They had sent for Jesus when their brother was still alive, and He didn’t come just then. But they were not alone. Even though I’ve been reading this passage over and over again for months, verse 19 stuck out to me as if I’d never seen it: and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother.
Those people came and consoled. As Martha and Mary fell apart in the aftermath of the sickness and death of their brother, likely their sole support in the world, people came and consoled.
It seems like a small thing, perhaps.
But as someone who has spent much more time falling apart lately than I would like, I can tell you that those two things have meant the most to me.
Words mean a great deal to me, and so I was a little put off by the word “console” in this passage. It sounds like a consolation prize, doesn’t it? Oh, your brother has died, here’s a participation ribbon.
So I went to the Greek.
For those of you who care to know, the (transliterated) Greek word here is paramutheomai, it occurs only four times in the Bible, in two books, twice in 1 Thessalonians (where it is translated as encourage or encouraging) and twice in this little story in John 11, in reference to those who came.
You might enjoy reading the 1 Thessalonians verses, as I did:
“just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children” (2:11)
“We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (5:14)
How do you go about encouraging someone fainting in heart? What does it look like to come and console?
For me, that has meant sitting in silence, letting me talk, it has meant screaming (and yes, swearing) with me, it has meant prayers, some of them uttered with barely a sound. It has meant long hugs and cards in the mail and tweets and tears. It has meant grace, poured out in abundance, and acknowledgement that all is not as it should be.
Together, we wait for Jesus, so that I don’t have to wait alone.
The verse I opened with has always puzzled me. What is this talk of dying seeds? (I’m not much of a gardener). I began to read about the way a seed prepares for germination, taking on water until it cannot hold any more and it bursts, splitting it’s skin right down the middle.
The seed falls apart before it can grow.
As new beginnings go, it’s not lovely to look at. It’s much nicer to think about the gently opening buds, or even the promised fruit. But the fruit and flowers can’t come, Jesus says, without death. Without falling into the ground and dying, the seed remains alone, inconsolable, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
It is easy to think of the story of Lazarus, Mary and Martha as a happy and triumphant one, but I think that those days were likely some of the darkest those women ever endured. Perhaps they were better prepared than anyone else when they saw Jesus die and go into the ground, knowing that He was the very embodiment of resurrection. Perhaps they caught themselves wondering if something similar to what had happened with their brother would occur.
I would like to say that I am the same way in the face of painful things. I would like to look at darkness and death and look ahead to the fruit, but perhaps that isn’t the point after all. Perhaps I am meant to just sit here with those who come and console as I fill up with water and burst, waiting for Jesus to come.
This post is part of the January 2014 Synchroblog: New Beginnings.
Below are the links to the other participating writers.
Jen Bradbury - Enough
Abbie Watters - New Beginnings
Carol Kuniholm - Acorns, King, Beloved Community
Done With Religion – A New Year, A New Beginning
Kelly Stanley - A Blank Canvas
Glenn Hager - Overcoming The Biggest Obstacle To Reaching Your Goals
Dave Criddle - Get Some New Thinking
David Derbyshire - Changed Priorities Ahead
J A Carter - The Year of Reading Scripture for the First Time
Jeffrey Kranz - Where To Start Reading The Bible
Joanna990 - On survival – my one word for 2014
K W Leslie - Atonement
Happy - my One Word 365 surprise
Michelle Moseley - Ends and Beginnings
Matthew Bryant - A New Creation
Edwin Pastor Fedex Aldrich - Foreclosed: The beginning of a new dream
Jennifer Clark Tinker - Starting a New Year Presently
Loveday Anyim - New Year New Resolutions
Loveday Anyim - New Year Resolution Dreamers
Loveday Anyim - New Year Resolution Specialists
Loveday Anyin – New Year Resolution Planners and Achievers
Jeremy Myers - Publish Your Book with Redeeming Press
Amy Hetland - New Beginnings
Phil Lancaster – New Beginnings
Mallory Pickering – Something Old, Something New
Margaret Boelman – The Other Side of Grief