As 2021 comes to a close, I find myself with more questions than answers. Perhaps you do too. Though I sit with uncertainty relating to the outer world and the challenges we face collectively, the questions pressing in the most right now are the more personal ones deep within. Questions about faith, about the church, about my place there. Questions about work and calling in this changing season of my life and family. Questions about trauma and wounds and what real healing looks like.
Though I long to live rooted in peace and trust, the reality is that confusion, wrestling, and fear are constant companions, like stubborn, unruly tenants that feel impossible to evict.
I’m studying the book of Matthew this year. The Gospels are my favorite books of Scripture because in the life and work of Jesus, we see the visible image of the Father, “God made flesh.” Through the life of Christ, we see God’s heart for us and for the world. We see his posture toward doubters and strugglers, even the ones who “should know better.”
This week I came upon one of my favorite doubters, John the Baptist, an actual relative of Jesus. The one who leapt in the womb when his mother heard Mary’s greeting. The one who had devoted his life to preparing the way for Jesus, the promised Messiah. The one who baptized Jesus and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him like a dove while a voice from heaven said out loud, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”
Yet just seven chapters later, this same John, now imprisoned, sends a question to Jesus through his disciples:
Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (Matthew 11:2)
I want to stand up and cheer when I read this question. I want to write John the Baptist a letter and shoot it up to heaven:
Dear John the Baptist,
Thank you for saying these words out loud for us to read over 2,000 years later. Thank you for having both the humility and the courage to be honest. Thank you for showing us that when our expectations and hopes don’t line up with our experiences, it’s human to doubt and to question. Thank you for going straight to Jesus, the one with whom our questions are safe, the one who does not condemn us when we’re confused.
Jesus then points to the work he has done on earth, all of them works of healing and compassion, and how they fulfill Old Testament prophecies. He lovingly provides proofs of his identity for this imprisoned doubter. And then—then—he publicly speaks about John, commending him as a man and as a prophet. He doesn’t use John and his doubt as a cautionary tale or call label it as sin. He affirms John for all to hear and elevates his powerful role in the kingdom of heaven.
If you have ever been made to feel that your questions about faith and God are unwelcome, uneducated, or unwarranted, I’m so sorry. That is not the heart of Jesus for you.
Though Christmas is the season for tying up bows and festooning our lives in a way that makes it all appear foolproof, we are not actually fools about any of it. Deep down, we know better. We sit with uncertainty and grief. Like John, we sit with the reality that life does not look how we thought it would. We sit with failure, despair, exhaustion. We sit with deconstruction and we don’t know if we have what it takes for reassemble any it. In fact, we don’t even know where to begin.
To all of us, I say this. Go straight to Jesus. Begin with him. With a posture of humility and honesty, unload your burdens in the presence of Christ, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” A man who welcomes the real and honest doubt of even his most faithful followers. A man who asked God the Father, “If it be possible, let this cup (death on a cross) pass from me,” even as he submitted himself to the most brutal of rescue missions to save us and restore us, to heal and reconcile all things.
At the end of this same chapter in Matthew, we read some of Jesus’ most famous and comforting words to us:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
In this season that can feel anything but an invitation to rest and unburden ourselves from all the “shoulds” and “should-haves,” Jesus invites us to unwrap the gifts only he can provide: relief from the crushing and false burdens of legalism, rest for our anxious souls, help, grace, a safe place to go and a safe person on whom to unload All the Things.
I pray that he will meet you right where you are today, showing you that he is there after all, and that every broken and burdened part of you is safe with him.