John 11:1-45, Fifth Sunday of Lent
I was having brunch with a couple of good friends yesterday, and our conversation strayed into this matter of “hitting rock bottoms.” There are moments in our lives when, for different reasons, we find ourselves in the pits. Life feels like it’s in ruins; things have somehow fallen apart. Perhaps we’ve just experienced a major failure in our work; or maybe a valued relationship has just–in spite of our best efforts–ended. Or it’s possible we’re going through one of those major personal mid-life–or quarter-life–crises.
The point is, whatever the cause, we feel like we’ve hit rock bottom: It can’t get any worse! The tunnel is longer and darker than any you’ve been through before, not a flicker of light in sight. It’s a terrible place to find yourself in.
I hit rock bottom a few years ago, I confided to my friends. “Do you remember the time you came over to me after Mass asking why our mutual friend sat behind you crying during my homily?” I asked them. “She was crying not because of the homily, but because she knew I was suffering. She knew I had hit rock bottom in my life.”
I mention this because the story of Lazarus has always reminded me of my rock bottom–and of how the Lord patiently and repeatedly called to me to pick myself up and climb my way out of the dark.
Summoned from the darkness of his tomb, Lazarus hears Jesus calling him, that familiar voice accompanied by other familiar voices–those of his sisters’ and friends’–imploring him to step back into the light, and back into this world. What could he have been thinking? Did he have to make a decision? Was he tempted to stay in hiding and remain dead?
In a strange sort of way, I know that feeling. And perhaps you do, too. Those of us who have experienced a major crisis in our lives and in the process, some kind of death–perhaps emotional or spiritual–know that the sadness and the darkness that we wrap around ourselves can at times become too comforting to shed. We can be tempted to remain in that place, and for that reason, need all the help we can get–tender love as well as tough love–to nudge us out of it. Like Lazarus, stepping out of our tombs could be painstakingly effortful and could require every ounce of our will power.
But thanks to the encouragement of those who love us, and thanks to God’s grace, we somehow manage to pull ourselves together and find our way back in the land of the living.
I did, thanks to the love and prayers of people who patiently stood by me and cheered me on as I stumbled my way out of the dark. When I began waking up in the morning feeling the weight less and less on my chest, I knew I was on my way to recovery. One such morning I sat down and wrote this in my journal, dedicated to all those who stood by me:
I’ve been in hell the past months. Actually, it felt more like I died–or at least was left for dead. But recently when I wasn’t looking, the stone covering my tomb was rolled away for me. And though I wanted to remain in the dark to nurse my perhaps occasionally exaggerated wounds, I heard the Lord call out to me, ‘Come out!
It’s the same thing he asked of his friend Lazarus–and it wasn’t so much a command as it was a plea, a prayer from a friend who loved him dearly. And that’s exactly what it took to pry Lazarus off Abraham’s bosom (the poor man’s name in the parable was certainly no coincidence!). I think it was Jesus’ tone more than anything else that convinced him to return to this chaotic world of ours, emboldening him to cross that great chasm and to finally pull himself out of his dark tomb, and step back into the light.
For me, it took exactly the same irresistible tone to pull me back into the light and into this life. Only, the Lord called out to me in a voice not His, but the voices of my friends.
The story of Lazarus is a reminder to us that when we feel down, buried by the troubles of our lives, it will do us well to recall the love that people reserve for us. It is what will make the difference.
And this is precisely why we should always be on the lookout for people around us who have quietly and secretly hit their rock bottom. They need us to call to them and cheer them on as they climb their way out of the pit. They need us to be Jesus to them.