My husband’s all time favorite movie is Rocky. He says that it’s not about the fight scenes. It’s not even about the scene where Rocky runs up the museum steps declaring victory. He says that the best part of the movie is near the end when Rocky tells Adrian that he knows he won’t win the big fight but he has to get in the ring and give it all he has anyway. He has to go the distance. My husband says that he can really identify with a guy who has given everything that he has to something and in his defeat comes to the end of himself. I can see how that appeals to him, it sounds like his story.
My husband has been on a journey of recovery from sex and alcohol addiction for many years. And I’ve been on that journey with him. We’ve tried to overcome these addictions through our own will, or by trying everything within our power to stop it. What we’ve learned is that for real recovery to happen you need to get to the end of yourself. You need to get to a place where you say, “I know I can’t do this by my own power or strength but I am going to go the distance anyway.”
I was thinking about all of this when I was reading John 11 recently. John 11:1-44 is all about Jesus’ friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. In this passage Jesus receives word that his friend Lazarus is very ill. And as sick as Lazarus was, even to the point of death, Jesus chose not to go to him right away. The decision not to go really troubled Mary and Martha and I can relate with their struggle. In verses 21 and 32 both sisters tell Jesus that if he had come sooner their brother would not have died. As we have moved through the recovery process I have felt like Mary and Martha many times. In my distress I have cried out to God in anger, bitterness, frustration, and confusion. I have asked him “Where were you? Why weren’t you here with us? If you would have been here sooner you could have stopped this from happening to us.” In those times I have had to remind myself that Jesus is there all the time. He sees and he knows.
What’s been even more powerful and healing for me is knowing that, not only has he not abandoned us, he grieves over our situation with us. In verse 33 Jesus is upset when he sees Mary weeping. He is hurt by her pain. He has seen me weeping many, many times on this journey and he has counted every tear. In fact, when he sees the pain the we, his children, are in I believe that, just like in verse 35 he weeps too. God has never wanted a life of sin for any of us. And many of the choices that we have made for ourselves are not the choices that he wanted us to make. But when we make those bad decisions he is there with us, even if in our pain. Even when we can’t feel him. He knows, he sees, and he weeps.
I don’t know much about the movie Rocky but I do know that there is something to the idea that we need to come to the end of ourselves before we can see God do a life changing, life giving miracle in us. For Lazarus, he needed to experience death in order for others to see and experience the glory of God (v, 4, 40). I would say that the same has been true of our recovery journey. We have had to come to the end of ourselves before we could truly recover. My husband had to get to a place where he could abandon all of his own self will or self reliance and surrender completely to God. Like Lazarus, he had to have a death experience in order for God’s glory to be shown through him. Death to self, rebirth or recovery in Christ.
As I look back on our journey I can honestly say that none of it was fun. But I can also honestly say that all of this experience has been life giving. It’s not what I would have picked for myself but I am grateful for the experience. I have learned so much about myself, my past, my experiences, my family, and my faith. I’ve learned things that I don’t think I could have learned any other way.
As I re-read through this passage tonight I realized that John doesn’t tell us what Lazarus says when he comes out of the tomb after 4 days. I don’t think that he came out complaining. I can’t imagine that he said “Jesus, What is up with that? Where were you? Why did you let me die?” My bet is that he came out rejoicing and glorifying God. I think he was grateful for Jesus. Not grateful for the painful experience of death but grateful for the joyful experience of new life. We can relate to that too.