This week we had a crisis at our house related to Lizzy!, our little dancing extrovert of a Schnoodle who went blind suddenly, or at least so we thought. That story is still unfolding, but in the process of things, she made it into my sermon, which draws from Isaiah 40 and Mark 1.
This week I have been a part of a couple of unconnected conversations about families with multiple children who are born close together, and it made me think about my family growing up.
We were not a large family; I only have one brother who is twenty-one months younger than I am. As many of you know, both as siblings and as parents, that age gap feels both small and large depending on how old the kids are. When we were both small, it was a lot for my mother, who was the primary stay-at-home parent. She was a good mother for little kids and she loved playing with us, but there were days that weren’t quite as much fun—for any of us—and on those days I can hear her say to my brother and me, “I am sick and tired of you boys acting up.”
I thought about her as I read our scripture for this week because that’s what they are about: being sick and tired, but in reverse: the Isaiah passage is about exhaustion and the story from Mark’s gospel is about illness. They made me think about how much of the Bible is about people who are sick and tired, and about how God shows up in the middle of it all.
As Eric said in his introduction to the passage from the prophet, Isaiah was talking to people who were weary and worn down and were unable to imagine a life other than being weary and worn down. They had allowed themselves to believe that life was hard. Period. They were in exile. They didn’t think they would ever get home. Isaiah offered a word of hope, but it wasn’t all warm and fuzzy.
Have you not been paying attention?
Have you not been listening?
Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?
Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?
He understood their plight, but he didn’t have much room for them to feel sorry for themselves. He wasn’t being callous; he just wanted them to see beyond their exhaustion, to remember God was with them, even in exile. Granted, he could have used a couple of courses in pastoral care. When someone is worn out, “Quit whining” is not necessarily the most compassionate response. Even so, he called them to hear a deep and abiding truth:
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. God is creator of all you can see or imagine. God doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch a breath. God knows everything, inside and out. God energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.
In our story from Mark’s gospel, Jesus went to Peter’s house because his mother-in-law was sick and running a high fever. (A quick side note: Peter had a mother-in-law, which means Peter was married—something we don’t often think about.) Jesus went into the house, took her hand, helped her out of bed, and, Mark says, she got up and served them dinner. She got back to being who she was.
Sick and tired. Either way, God meets us there and offers presence and hope—which is not to say God makes everything better or that as long as we trust God everything will work out fine. Life doesn’t work that way. There are thousands of faithful people praying in Gaza every day who feel like they have more than they can handle and have no illusion that it’s all going to work out somehow. There are people living in Hamden who feel the same way. If committing our livers to God meant everything would go our way then we wouldn’t have half of our scriptures, and we certainly wouldn’t have the Psalms. They are filled with songs of the sick and tired both calling out to God for help and thanking God for God’s love and presence.
When it comes to the last verse of Isaiah 40, most of our translations say, “Those that wait upon God will renew their strength.” The Hebrew word is better understood as “those who trust in God,” or “those who put their hope in God”—those who are willing to bet their lives that love will be the last word. In reality, that is often easier said than done.
But I think it actually gets lived out something like this:
Friday morning I got up with our oldest Schnauzer, Lizzy!, who is the most joyous little creature you have ever seen, and as I opened the door to let her out I realized she was blind. She bumped into the door. We her to the vet and learned she has genetic glaucoma, which has been chipping away at her eyesight her whole life. She is fully blind in her right eye. We are still hopeful we may be able to keep some sight in her left eye, though we won’t know how much or for how long until we are able to see how she tolerates the drops.
Once we got her pain under control, she began to adjust, as the vet said she would. Not only that, on Saturday morning I got up to let the dogs out. Lizzy! made her way to the top of the stairs and waited to get her bearings. Elena, our newest rescue, passed her and then came back up beside her and brushed her shoulder as if to say, “I’ve got you; come on.” And Lizzy! bounded down the stairs behind her.
Whether we are able to soar above our circumstances, run with the tenacity of a marathoner, take it a step at a time, or simply find the strength to get up and fix dinner, we can help remind each other of the hope we have in trusting God together, a trust that lets us be something other than sick and tired.
Some years ago, I wrote a poem responding to something I saw in myself. I felt like most every time someone asked how I was doing I said, “I’m tired.” In the early versions of my poem I started with
when they ask how you’re doing
say something other than tired
say something other than busy
look for something to say
beyond the shadow of circumstance
But the longer I lived with what I had written, the more I decided that was not what I wanted to say. So I rewrote it and this is the version I kept.
when they ask how you’re doing
it’s okay to say you’re tired
to tell the story of how life
wore you out and left you here
but don’t stop there
sing a weary melody and invite
them to sing the harmony
they’ll know the song
it’s not an original composition
Sometimes life leaves us sick and tired—and when it does, may we remember we belong to a God who does not leave us alone; we belong to one another and can share the load; may we take the hand that is offered and keep going. Amen.