"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (Martha to Jesus, John 11:21)
This is my second week considering Martha. Last week we saw her being anxious and troubled about many things. This week we see her in the bitter devastation of an unanswered prayer. She had asked Jesus to come when she was worried about her brother's health and Jesus had not answered -- or not in time, as she saw it. Now her brother was dead. The normal grief and loss at a death was made more bitter by the knowledge that a request for help had gone unanswered. These are the things that make people question God's goodness: we ask for help, we pray for help, we beg for help, and help does not come. Few people get the chance to say it in person: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." (One way to see the subtext: This is on you.)
Jesus explains to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life," and after explaining more fully he asks her, "Do you believe this?" Interesting question because on one level the question is pointless: its truth doesn't depend on her belief. But the truth doesn't do any good to her, in the here and now unless she believes it.
I was in a similar situation a few years back with an unexpected health problem. I had some friends who were absolutely sure that it would pass, that within a year it would be behind me. After finally getting a correct diagnosis and a good few months of physical therapy, they were right. And it was always likely that they were right, considering my age and general health. All the same, their words of comfort did me no good because I didn't believe those words. The anxiety and stress -- or doubt and bitterness -- that I felt at that time were not strictly because of a medical problem; it was because I expected the worst, and couldn't believe otherwise. And so much of that distress was preventable.
So today I hope to remember that my own frame of mind can make a big difference in how stressful things are. Even in times that are legitimately bad, a certain mind-frame can make it worse. And the truth only does me good here and now if I believe it.