Several years ago, when my son Quinn was in kindergarten, he opened a present on Christmas morning, and he was not happy with what he saw. He set it aside, looked up at me, and declared, “We’re gonna need a receipt for that one.” I made a mental note to start working on gratitude with him as soon as the wrapping paper was all picked up. Yet, at the same time, I heard in his words the ordinary wish of the masses of humanity: We are given this gift called life and, oftentimes, as we unwrap it, there are parts of it we would like to return.
For instance, several months ago, I dropped Quinn off for his first day of fifth grade. The long line of cars was moving slowly, so I had time to watch him walk onto the playground. He stood there, alone, nervously rubbing the straps of his backpack, scanning the crowd for just one friendly face. He turned in circles and searched in vain. My stomach clenched. As a psychologist, I know kids need moments like this to build resilience—to learn they can survive it—but the father in me was about to pull over and get out anyway. Then, the line sped up and I was forced to move on, leaving my son lonely and looking. I knew he’d eventually find his friends—moments of loneliness always precede moments of belonging, that’s just the way it is—but eventually wasn’t good enough for me.
I wanted to skip over the painful part.
It’s Christmastime now, and as I watch my kids make wish lists and sing in Christmas pageants and open an Advent calendar, memories of my own childhood are revived, like ghosts from Christmases past. Specifically, I recall the church I attended when I was Quinn’s age, where I learned about a better way to handle the painful parts of life. Every week in Sunday school, we’d practice Bible trivia. Over time, I memorized most of the questions and answers, and for some reason, to this day, I remember one question in particular: “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?” And the answer?
Why did Jesus weep? The story begins with the sisters of a man named Lazarus sending word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus immediately reassures them with these words, “This sickness will not end in death.” Then, Jesus dawdles for a while, and his friend dies. Eventually, Jesus returns to Judea, where the body of his friend lies lifeless, all the while reassuring everyone that he will resurrect Lazarus. But then, with his own eyes, he sees the stark tomb of Lazarus himself, and the big, thick, wordy Bible is suddenly pithy in describing the scene: “Jesus wept.”
He’s the God of the universe, power with a pulse, justice with a jawbone, love with a larynx. He knows he can and will resurrect his beloved friend—the outcome is not in question, the joy is not in doubt, the gift is not up for grabs—and yet he sobs anyway. He feels the grief and the sorrow, the loss and the agony. He takes time for the pain. To surrender to it. To show it. Though we human beings tend to ask for a receipt and try to return our pain—though we human beings, if given a choice, would skip the weeping and get right to the resurrecting—God-become-human will have none of it.
Now, years later, as my kids fall asleep with visions of Nintendo Switches dancing in their heads, as a clinical psychologist, I think the weeping of Jesus may be one of his most important teachings of all. Now, when my clients say things like, “My faith is strong, so I don’t know why I feel so afraid of all this uncertainty,” or “I believe in heaven, so I don’t know why I feel so sad about all this loss,” I remember the shortest verse in the Bible. I remember that Jesus wept before the resurrection of his friend.
Oftentimes, we’d prefer to reflect upon the gift of a resurrected Jesus, while we want a receipt for all of the grit that preceded it. But Christmastime is the perfect time to slow down and reflect upon how terribly imperfect his entire life really was. Every hero has an origin story, and Jesus’ story is overflowing with pain and grit, from the very beginning.