Jesus began to weep

When Mary of Bethany came to where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. -John 11:32-35

Peter had a rough day at work. Nothing went the way it was supposed to, and his boss let him know she noticed. Peter went home and grumpily told his husband “everything was fine at work” and turned on the football game without speaking again for the rest of the night. Next door, Pam got her kids around the table for dinner and the chorus of complaints about the meal began. Managing the kids and the house while her husband was deployed was getting harder and harder, but it was simpler to pour herself another glass of wine after the kids went to bed than admit she was struggling. Across the street, Missy sat alone on her couch, realizing just how anxious and sad she felt about her life. She quickly opened TikTok to scroll through new videos. It might not fix anything, but at least she could be distracted instead of sad.

You probably know Peter and Pam and Missy, or people who sound just like them. For that matter, you’ve probably been Peter or Pam or Missy a time or two in your life. We’ve all been there- knowing that we’re feeling something that’s likely to be unpleasant and uncomfortable. Instead of feeling those feelings, we numb them instead! We’ve all done it, whether it’s with an extra drink, a mindless scroll of social media, a bowl of ice cream, whatever’s on TV, an extra exhausting workout, or a shopping spree.

Before you shift uncomfortably in your chair and scroll away to something more pleasant to read, look back to the glimpse of Jesus shared in John 11 above. Jesus is faced with the death of a friend and the grief of his friend’s sister and their whole community. This is gut-wrenching stuff. What did Jesus do? He began to weep. 

The only way through hard emotions is to feel them. Research shows that if we try to numb those unwanted negative emotions like sadness, disappointment, and anger, we end up numbing joy and hope right along with them. A couple of beers, a banana nut muffin, and a new shirt cannot fix your emotions. The thing is that your feelings don’t need to be fixed at all. When Lazarus died, and his sisters and community wept, Jesus wept right along with them. When Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, he urged them: “Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.” (Romans 12:15)

Beloved people of God, there is a great deal going on in our personal and communal lives that raises strong feelings. We may be disappointed, sad, scared, angry, anxious, and frustrated. If that’s you- do yourself a favor and let yourself be sad without rushing to numb it. Let yourself be angry without pushing it off on someone else. The only way to stop carrying the burdens of those hard emotions is to feel them and name them. If Peter told his husband he was frustrated by his job, if Pam texted a friend that she was feeling overwhelmed, if Missy took her anxiety to a therapist—it wouldn’t get rid of the very real challenges behind their feelings, but it would help make them bearable.

We can also take our emotional burdens to Jesus, who weeps with us without ever asking us if perhaps we’re taking things a bit too seriously. Jesus, of all people, knew that death wouldn’t get the last word in our lives, and yet he cried with Mary and her friends when Lazarus died. When we honestly share our ups and downs with God, God is deeply moved. Through those ups and downs, God carries not only our heavy feelings but our very selves. You are held by the same God who wept with Mary.

Jesus, thank you for showing us that we can weep. Thank you for your compassion in being moved by our struggles. Help us to resist the temptation to numb our feelings, and instead to feel our way through our ups and downs, confident that you are holding us all the way.