A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Lies
There were pictures of her bathed in the sun of South Padre, sand between her toes, arm-in-arm with beautiful friends. Pictures of her holding up a margarita, toasting the unseen photographer. Pictures of her beside her new Honda, graduating with honors, random shots of her at forgotten Christmases and family vacations. In every one she was all smiles, seeming to radiate happiness.
But on the day when a picture would finally have spoken the truth, no one dreamed of lifting a camera. On that day the mourners were shocked to discover that behind the veneer of her bright smile lurked a fathomless darkness, whose depths she made manifest only when she despaired of life in this world.
Her name is Cindy. And her name is Audrey. And Liz. And Susan. And countless others, for hers is a story told with heartbreaking frequency. Her snapshots are images of an actor on the world’s stage, playing the part expected of her by the audience, conforming to social norms, smiling her way through pain, unto despair, into the grave. Her pictures are not worth a thousand words; they tell a thousand lies.
I was little different from her during the time in my life when suicide began to sing to me its siren song. I painted on the obligatory smile, locking up the grief when others were around, lest someone discover that I too was a frail human being beset with weakness. By then I had years of practice in the fool’s art of keeping up appearances.
St. John wrote that he who says he has no sin deceives himself. But that lie is only one of many self deceptions we perfect. We say we have no struggle with depression, while inside is a yawning, cavernous darkness. A husband says his marriage is just fine, while his wife, at her wits end, has scheduled a meeting with a divorce lawyer. A pastor pours a little more liquor into his glass week after week, self-medicating himself to sleep, all the while telling himself he’s just exercising his Christian freedom. And I’m willing to wager that you, dear reader, have told your own set of lies to the man in the mirror.
If I could possess just one snapshot of Jesus, one picture taken during his earthly life, it wouldn’t be Mary’s swaddled baby boy, or the walking-on-water Christ, or even the Lord affixed to the tree. It would be on the day he was told his friend Lazarus was dead, when St. John summarizes his reaction in two simple words, ”Jesus wept.” Two words, the significance of which heaven and earth are too small to contain. Here is God, crying over the death of a beloved friend. No Stoic divinity with a heart of flint, shrugging at the harsh realities of life. No actor faking composure for the evangelist’s camera. This picture truly would be worth a thousand words, for it would proclaim a thousand truths.
We need to know that God cried. We need to know that he knows what pain and loneliness and heartache feel like. We have a God who has been tempted, betrayed, hated, forgotten, rejected, stabbed in the back and spit in the face. He’s been through hell on earth, quite literally. He doesn’t just know intellectually what people suffer; he knows existentially. And he has scars to prove it.
But there’s more, and it’s even better. He not only sympathizes, he revitalizes–he literally “makes alive again.” When Lazarus lay entombed, there was a time to tear up, and a time to tear down the powers of life’s foe. So Jesus stood before the grave and commanded, ”Lazarus, come forth!’” Shrouded in the raiment of a corpse, but with a heart pumping life through his veins again, out stepped God’s friend. One of my teachers liked to remark that the reason Jesus mentioned Lazarus by name was that if he had issued a blanket announcement in the graveyard, every tomb would have coughed up its dead, alive again!
But, in fact, Jesus resurrects by name. He calls Lazarus and Cindy and Audrey and Liz and Susan. And he calls you by name—calls you out of the graves of grief and guilt. He bids you weep and wail, kick and scream, whatever it takes to purge the poison from your heart with unbridled honesty. And he will listen, without ever once interrupting, until you’re done, even if you have to tell him times without number. Into you, as into the first human being, he will breathe his own breath, a breath that bears the very life of God into you. And where God is, there is hope and healing, a recreative power that makes all things new for you who are not only his friend, but his beloved child.