Long before Susan Boyle made it famous, I sang “I Dreamed a Dream” for Senior Night the year I graduated from High School. Absolutely love the song. But it sure is sad. From the musical Les Miserables it tells the story of a woman, Fantine, who loved and lost, who naively gave her heart away and found it returned to her in pieces. Yet sadder still, such a brief taste of love ultimately left her stranded and alone with a child she could not support. In the end, she dies a broken woman who had sold herself in order to keep her child alive. The closing lyrics to the song say it all: “I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living; so different now from what it seemed, now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”
This could be the life song of so many people. We start out in one direction, full of hope and expectancy, and then, for all kinds of reasons, things go in a direction we did not choose and cannot seem to change. Even for college students, whose lives are filled with promise and possibility, this is still true. Maybe it was the scholarship that didn’t come true, the acceptance letter that never came, the relationship that didn’t work out, the mistake that never goes away. Life has failed us somehow, and we stand confused, holding the pieces of our hearts in our hands. We keep telling ourselves sentences that begin with the words, “If only . . . .” We want to go back in time, choose differently, turn things around. We long for this opportunity, yet we are a million miles away from fulfilling it. I have been there. And so had Mary of Bethany, friend and disciple of Jesus.
We first meet Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet while He visits in her home; she is listening to Him, learning from Him. Martha interrupts, insisting that Mary assist her in the work of hospitality; Jesus simply says that Mary’s devotion will not be taken from her—she is right where she needs to be. I love the sense of intimacy that permeates the story. Of course his boy disciples are there, Peter, James, John, etc. Of course Martha is hurrying and scurrying. Of course it is a scene full of tension as Martha “subtly” makes her frustration clear before saying anything, while Peter and the crew wonder what is so special about this “girl” who gets to sit with them, hear what they hear, learn what they learn. The haughty sighs and grumpy harrumphs are the audible subtext of the story; not everyone agrees that Mary is right where she needs to be. But Jesus doesn’t care. And Mary doesn’t seem to either. For them, they might as well be the only two in the room, a woman loving the Lord with her whole self: mind, heart, strength, and soul. It is a beautiful picture of what Jesus invites us to: Intimacy unscathed by the chaos surrounding it.
And so when Mary’s beloved brother dies, her devastation is clear. She knows He could have kept it from happening. She knows Him, yet she doesn’t understand Him. Her anguished words echo this paradox of faith and floundering: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The subtext here is the un-asked question, “Lord, why did You not come?” I hear in her words the same anguish voiced by Fantine: “I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I’m living.” Mary had a different dream for her life too. And now she is caught in circumstances she could neither foresee nor change: she had trusted Jesus implicitly, opened her heart to Him completely, entrusted Him with the vulnerability of real belief, and Jesus failed to show up when she asked Him too. She is really devastated. Seeing her so, Jesus cannot help but respond to her grief: “When he saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). Jesus grieves with her. I believe He even grieves for her.
But her tears (and He knew she would have them) do not have the power to change His plans, plans that she could not understand or grasp. In a way I love this. Bizarre as it sounds, I love that He does not give in to my grief. It comforts me to know that He grieves with and for me—it is so like Him; He is compassion. But to give in to our hopes, even those that are good, is to do us a grave dis-service when He has something so much better for us in mind. For Mary Jesus’ intention was better than simply making her brother well. His intention was to bring the dead to life, to do what only He could do. While it is true that life often kills our dreams, Jesus invites us to dream better ones. He invites us to bring to Him our shattered and broken dreams, especially those that are beyond repair, because in the place of their death, He intends to bring life. In the places of our greatest devestation new hope is born, where and when we least expect it. It may not look like what we expect, but we can trust that it will look like something only He can do, far beyond what we can ask or imagine. Jesus looks at the tomb of Mary’s brother, and cries with a loud voice, “Lazurus, come out! (John 11:43). This is my Easter message: He doesn’t just bring resurrection, He is the resurrection. In the middle of our brokenness, He invites us to wait for His gift of new life. Be courageous enough to dream a better dream with me.
This is me trusting,