In the black church, “Church Mothers” (elderly women in the congregation) are recognized as pillars of the faith. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes writes that black women within the church are the underrated “enterprising agents” of the black church tradition. I grew up respecting an honoring the women elders in the pews. These powerful women knew the Bible better than anyone yet was not allowed in the pulpit to ‘preach’. Still today, Church mothers can be heard saying, “I don’t need a title to do what God has called me to do.” With this, they still remain the most committed members in a church when it comes to service within and outside the church. As a retired woman and/or former homemaker, engaging with a traditional church mother guaranteed a few things: warm embrace, a beautiful smile, memories, questions about your lack of attendance, follow up questions, invitation for the next weekly service, ticket sales for the prayer breakfast, a heavy pocketbook with candy, and the beloved handshake with a bill folded 5 or 6 times over.
My grandmother, Lavada G. Williams-Gutierrez, was the epitome of a Church mother when she was at church, the DMV, collecting her rent from tenants, and definitely during the holiday dinners. Church mothers, like my grandmother, were bold in their faith and I knew it cost something to get to where they were.
As I near my 40th birthday, it is simple to recognize that I am not getting any younger. But these days, I truly understand why Church mothers continued to tell me to “Trust God in everything that I do.” Little did I know that trusting God is not just about the dreams and goals for my life. I am learning that trusting God is necessary for the difficult unanswered pains of life that resemble fault lines ripe for a natural disaster. To be honest, I have expressed a lot of anger at the result of a sure foundation now presenting itself as unfit and unhealthy.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to be alive, raising a family, working towards better health and completing my PhD. And I still quote the Scriptures of my childhood.
…. “[God] has given us ALL things that pertain to life and godliness…” (2 Peter 1:3)
“…all things work together for the good of those who love Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:28)
I know these Scriptures, and many more, like the back of my hand, but how does one maintain faith while experiencing pain and trauma?
What does our theology look like when our pain and grief is a result of God allowing a crisis – ‘on purpose’?
How do you make sense of what doesn’t make sense?
How do you make it through a crisis when you followed all of the rules?
As my mom shared, “Candace, you have to stop looking at what it looks like and have faith in God, knowing that you have the victory.”
I get it. But how do I get there without bitterness and anger overtaking me? I’m only human. Anger and frustration are real. If I followed the rules, should I have to deal with God’s path that involves hurt and pain? How do we communicate with a deliberate God that allows pain and suffering in our lives?
Have you ever found yourself trying to suppress your anger to appear as having greater faith in God? If so, this is unhealthy. In fact, this is not a model for life found in Scripture. Let’s go to John 11:1-43
My therapist directed me towards Martha’s response to Jesus after he took his sweet time coming to see her brother, Lazarus. Once Jesus arrives, Lazarus is not only dead, but he has been dead for four days – 96 hours. Isn’t that like God to show up when everything is completely lifeless? Usually, this is a greater testimony of God’s example of resurrection power. Within three small Scriptures (John 11:20-24), we read that Martha confronts Jesus about his lack of priorities. His own friend was sick and now is dead. The healing moment has passed. What does he want now?
Sometimes, I feel like Martha. I get Martha because in a previous story, she is not the highlight of the story as she commits herself to her societal role as a woman hosting a gathering of men – Jesus and his disciples. Martha is chided for not taking care of business, while Mary is praised for her position at the feet of Jesus. Fast forward to this passage and Martha seems to have learned the important lesson of doing the “good thing”. Does it work out for her?
With the last encounter with Jesus, Martha knows to call on Jesus. She has learned her lesson, right? The text does not say she did not call any doctors, but I wonder how doctors would respond to a call from a close friend of the town’s nature mystic who preaches outside the temple and heals with power from God. Jesus became an enemy of the state (Rome), the temple and those whose profession was to provide healing ailments for those in need.
Martha calls on Jesus…..no answer. He received the message but decided to wait! This leaves Martha angry and rightfully so. Does this mean she has no faith; no relationship with God? She did the right things, yet Jesus purposely waited.
What I appreciate about Martha is that she represents people who have faith enough to know that they can be honest about their anger and frustration towards God. We are often told that anger is a sign of having faith that is weak. At the result of suffering and evil in this world, there has to be room for anger. This sort of response is healthy as it is both reality and reminder of the goodness of creation. Is it God’s will that we suffer? God is big enough to handle our anger as God hears our protest as authentic to our faith in God’s will for our lives. Therefore, anger and reflection should not be the equivalent of renouncing our faith in God.
My 5-year-old daughter gets this already. While praying the same prayer and seeing no results, she said to me, “I’m not praying this prayer any more. I’m mad at God. It’s like God doesn’t even hear me. It’s so annoying.” I’m so grateful for her honesty and I encourage her to keep talking to God, no matter what. You can be angry but keep talking. God always hears and will always answer.
That’s what Martha did. Martha kept talking to God.
As Martha released her frustrations towards Jesus for showing up after her brother died, little did she know that her actions were making room for an answer to her crisis.
First thing to remember is that Martha’s crisis (as well as ours) is something we are purposed to go through and not take residence. Long before Jesus makes it to Bethany, upon hearing the news about his sick friend, he says, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4) Maybe Martha would have been less frustrated if she heard Jesus say these words as her victory was foretold long before he arrived in Bethany.
With Martha’s story, I am reminded that I have the victory and I have faith that this crisis is not unto death.
Within this text there are two very important steps that need to take place in order to for us to make it through and do more than just function throughout each day.
Here we go….
- Talk to God and let it go. God is big enough to handle hearing our frustrations. It is out of your hands; especially when you know you are not the creator of this crisis. This doesn’t mean we lie down and give up. No. Seek therapy, attend fitness classes (I like Zumba and Yoga), (re)organize your home, meditate and pray. These are things that have given me strength when these moments of despair arise. Of course, prayer and meditation are the best way to start the day, but I must also make the extra effort to survive this storm being committed to believing that the eye of storm is reachable and where I find peace. Releasing also involves shedding tears, journaling, and/or singing to voice our devastation on the path towards peace. We are vessels and have to focus on the shifting of our contents and being intentional about what we fill ourselves with in order to survive and thrive.
- Talking to God empties us out to make room for the answer and peace to help us through the crisis. Remember we are going through; we are not here to stay. Notice how Martha emptied her frustrations out, first. Then she received the resurrection knowledge that resolved the crisis in her life.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2.
Question: How do you make theological sense when you feel desperation due to circumstances that are not your own? Talk to God. Trust God.
Are you being honest with yourself and God? Talk to God. Trust God.
As a child grasps the hand of a parent, trust God to help you manage your emotions. Don’t get rid of them. Rest in God knowing that the unfamiliar path will not be something you face alone.
Martha would be an awesome Church mother. She’s been there. She’s lived through desperate times of correction, love and having her prayers answered.
One of my grandmother’s favorite Scriptures was, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, lean not to they own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge God and God will direct your paths.” (Psalm 3: 5-6)
What a reminder…..
God sees my past, present and future
God knows the path that I should take
God hears me when I cry.
I will never stop talking to God.