“Lean back. Relax. Do your mantra. And say, this is what it is and what it’s always been.”
This from a guy I trust. Why do I trust him? Well, for many reasons, but mostly, because he tells the truth.
It’s a pretty good reminder — up until something happens that makes a mantra impossible to live by and even more impossible to believe.
I really do think that a lot of life needs this reminder. Too much of our energy, time, worry, anxiety is directed toward things that, at the end of the day, do not matter and that you can’t change. This is ever so true of ministry, I know. There are always things that require tending. It seems like an ever-present challenge to figure out what needs attention and what doesn’t. Priorities are complicated. Dreams are distant. In the midst of graduations, confirmations, changes, sifting through what demands are at stake, who needs us, what needs to be done, is a fulltime job. Life is an ever-constant negotiation of needs, priorities, and at one point do we just get weary and say, “If I have to deal with one more thing, I can’t do this anymore.”
But, for the most part, the reason for these kinds of sayings, like, “Keep calm and…” is that they remind us of the truth of life, the things that are most important. Until that one more thing shows up. When something interjects, intercepts, intercedes into our truth and it upsets our very core. Some sort of recalibration becomes necessary. Restoration is necessary. Resurrection is necessary.
The widow of Nain surely felt all of these feelings. She was a widow, after all. To what extent she told herself this self-help phrase too many times to count. But when her only son dies, that is the one more thing.
But then Jesus shows up.
I wonder if it is in these very moments of “Lean back. Relax. Do your mantra. And say, this is what it is and what it’s always been” that Jesus sees you and says, “Stop. I have a different plan, a different idea, a different way, a different way of being and believing. It does not have to be what it is and what it’s always been.”
Notice that the widow of Nain does not ask for Jesus’ help. Jesus sees her. He sees her loss, so many fold. He sees her need. He sees her suffering. He sees what her life would be like, already a widow, now without her only son. Jesus sees that she has said one too many times, “this is what it is and what it’s always been.”
No, says Jesus. This does not have to be what it is and what it’s always been. And so Jesus restores the son to life and then gives him to his mother. And in restoring the son to life, he restores the mother to who she is. Jesus hands over to the widow of Nain her very self. It is a resurrection moment.
You see, when Jesus shows up and sees you, well, what it is and what it’s always been changes to “this is what can be.” Because this story is not only about Jesus and about us, but about God. Our God who sees us, looks favorably on us, regards us and what was and is? Well, is then transformed into what is possible. Even though Christmas was six months ago, we are only five chapters away in Luke from Elizabeth, from Mary. And Jesus will continue to see those we so easily overlook — the left-for-dead guy in the ditch, the wee, little man up in a Sycamore tree. Jesus sees so that we might see who needs to be restored to who they are or to what it might be possible to be — or even to what they once were.
This weekend, I went to visit my mother. She has Parkinson’s, and in the last few weeks she has fallen a number of times, a new manifestation of the condition for her, yet typical of the disease. “This is just what it is,” she said. In part, that is very true. We know the progression of the disease. We are all too aware of the next steps that we will need to take — a wheelchair, assisted living. We talked about some intermittent options — some additional services, more at-home care. We went over simple rituals that might help — counting to 15 once she gets up before walking. Doing only one task at a time. This is just what it is. This is what a lot of life is.
But, then Jesus shows up and sees you. My mom, a retired Lutheran pastor, told me about a Bible study she now attends once a week and really enjoys. She is getting help so that she can still lead chapel services every other week for those in the next building over who are in assisted living and nursing care. She has an idea about writing her third book, a devotional resource using material from her old sermons. And in those moments I saw my mom. Not the mom in a now frail and twisted and constantly moving body. Not the mom who can no longer make a meal for me. Not the mom I had to lift off the kitchen floor and place gently in a chair after she had fallen yet again while I was there. I saw the mom who was always filled with the love of Christ and who spent her whole life living that love for others.
Jesus showed up. And my mom remembered that Jesus saw her long ago and still does. And for a brief moment, she was restored to who she was. And “just what it is” was for just a bit, “there is so much more.” A resurrection glimpse. Yet, sometimes, that is all we need.