I grew up not knowing much about Jewish culture or the influence it had on the Bible I was supposed to be reading. I could be mis-remembering, but I feel like the Jewish part of Jesus and the Jewish part of the Old Testament got skipped over a lot when I was learning about the Bible for the first time years ago.
But if you spend any amount of time in the Old Testament, you can’t miss the Jewish heritage, the Jewish tradition, the Jewish faith, and then, in the New Testament, the Jewish parents who had a Jewish baby born to saves us; the Jewish rabbi who opened the gates of Heaven for all of us.
So I started paying attention to Judaism. How it shaped my Jesus-follower beliefs, how it is woven into the fabric of scripture and relationship, tradition and the very being of my Savior.
I wondered what I was missing out on because I seemed to discount the Judaism in my Jesus.
And then, when all the wheels fell of last fall (every single wheel, some wheels I didn’t even know existed), people started showing up.
And it felt like shiva.
I was mourning the death of my marriage, of the life I thought I had, and people just started showing up. People came to my house, to restaurants, to me in the pew at church, and they sat down with me in my grief.
One of the worst things (actually, there are a lot of “worst” things about marriages collapsing and addiction and families falling apart, but I don’t have time to rank them accordingly) about last fall was the way people tried to help but actually didn’t. When someone is knocked down hard, here are things they don’t want to hear:
Everything happens for a reason.
God has a plan for this.
At least ____ didn’t happen.
God never gives you more than you can handle.
Let me know if you need anything.
THESE ARE HORRIBLE THINGS TO SAY TO PEOPLE. If you’re saying them, stop immediately. You’re saying them because you want to make sense out of something that doesn’t (and might not ever) make sense. You want to make yourself feel better and you want to think you did something.
The act of sitting shiva is the Jewish tradition of structured mourning after a loved one passes. It’s often held in an immediate family member’s home and lasts at least seven days. While there is no timeline for grief, shiva is the first “official” time after someone’s death where people show up and literally take care of the survivors; feeding them, sitting with them, caring for them, being physically near to do anything (or nothing) a person who is overwhelmed with grief might need.
Last fall, people showed up for me as I struggled with grief and loss; feeding me, doing my dishes, caring for my children.
As I spent the year working my way through the Bible, I paid more and more attention to the Jewish heritage that becomes everyone’s heritage if they are Christ followers. So I began to wonder what parts of Jesus’ life and religious practices should still be a part of my life, even as a Gentile. And then tragedy struck and the people in my life rushed over to be physically near me.
We talked if I wanted to talk. We were silent if I wanted to be silent. People served me and my daughters without asking, without checking in, without question.
When you say, “Let me know if you need anything” to someone struggling, it makes you, the speaker feel better. You offered. You spoke up. And if that’s all you’re going for–to make yourself feel better–your work here is done.
But sitting shiva with people we love means not asking.
Katie didn’t ask if she could bring us dinner, she texted and said, “What night would be best for me to bring dinner over?”
No one asked if they could collect my trash cans from the road on a Tuesday afternoon, they just did it.
People who had experienced their own grief or trauma or collapse sent books for encouragement if they couldn’t physically show up at my house. Books with notes saying this changed my life.
Krissy said, “I want to take you to a movie,” and showed up with a babysitter for my girls.
My sister said, “I’m storming the gates of Heaven with prayers and petitions, tell me what you need right now,” and I whispered scary things she took before the throne because I couldn’t.
I felt like the paraplegic in Mark who couldn’t show up to where Jesus was preaching because he couldn’t walk so his four friends made a hole in the roof of the crowded house to get him an audience with Jesus.
In my chronological reading of the Bible, I came to Mark 2 on October 25th. Chris had been gone two months at this point, he was about a month sober and living in a treatment center where he would be for an extended time. I felt tired and broken. And then I read of the paraplegic’s four friends.
After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher.
My friends knew I needed to get to Jesus, but I was weary and heartbroken and I didn’t have the strength to do it on my own. They knew where I needed to be but I couldn’t get there myself. So they fed me, they served me, they brought me to Jesus, because I couldn’t find the words or legs to do it myself.
They sat shiva with me in my mourning and grief and they carried me when I needed to go places.
I didn’t read the Bible much in September. Chris had just left, he was drinking more and it was painfully obvious he wasn’t able to stop on his own. I was so angry at him and the people who made excuses for him and the people who acted like there was nothing we could do.
I was mad because life was hard and there was no reason and a million reasons for it.
The people who made the most difference to me at that point in my life were the people who didn’t give me excuses, they didn’t give me safe Christian answers, they just showed up and said very little.
In a podcast recently, Kate Bowler said what she appreciates the most when hard stuff happens, is when people acknowledge it’s hard and don’t offer an excuse or explanation. “Sometimes the truest thing we can do for each other is to look honestly at one another’s pain and say, wow, I can honestly say that sucks.”
The Jewish tradition of sitting shiva is acknowledging things are bad right now and then sitting down with someone in the midst of it. Maybe that person needs to be carried somewhere, maybe that person needs to be fed or reminded to bathe. We can acknowledge grief and pain without trying to explain it away, we can show up when things are falling apart and just sit with someone. We can’t always help the falling-apartness. We can’t always fix the hole or the broken spots, but we can come along. We can carry their burdens. We can offer our legs and arms when theirs don’t work.
In late 2016 when I decided to buy the chronological Bible and then commit a year to reading it through, I didn’t realize God was putting in some safety nets. I didn’t know He was preparing me for so many bumps and bruises and loses. I’d been studying the Bible for years and suddenly He was like, Here’s the thing, you’re going to need this, ALL OF THIS, soon so let’s just start at the beginning.
I’m not far enough away from last year to share all the lessons. There is still so much to learn, to heal, to begin again. But everything shifted. I was reading the Bible, diving deeper into a relationship with God, as my marriage broke down right before my eyes. Now nothing is the same; not at home, not inside my heart, not in my marriage, not in my spirit.
I learned a million hard, painful lessons in 2017 and right along side me the whole time was this story of God’s love for me and for all of us. He taught me how to fight for freedom from sin, and He showed me the power of just showing up for others. I wish I could have learned those lessons in kinder, gentler ways, but then they probably would not have stuck.
Notes about this post:
-Part one is here.
-If you’d like to read more about Jesus and the paraplegic, the story is found in Mark 2. I shared the Message version above.
-The podcast I reference is Everything Happens with Kate Bowler; her interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber is season one, episode one and where the quote came from.
-This is the Bible I read. I’ve recommended it a hundred times already, and I will not stop. Please get used to it.
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