Good Friday reminds me of what I learned in Togo, when I contracted malaria and wondered why I couldn’t get out of bed if I was loved by the God who raised Jesus from the dead. I wrote about it in my upcoming book WELL, and I wanted to share it with you this morning as we think about the power that not only resurrects, but gives us the strength to lay our lives down.
I was admitted to the hospital on Friday night, and discharged from the hospital on Sunday afternoon. I had three weeks before I was scheduled to fly home to the United States. I was on the fence about whether I could last that long, or whether I’d have to change my ticket and fly home early.
For the first few days after I got out of the hospital, it was a struggle to even stand up. I was exhausted, and my joints still ached. I was nauseated, and no food sounded good to me. Hazel brought me chicken soup, but even that made me want to vomit. Every few hours, I forced myself to get out of bed and walk to the kitchen for a sip of water before going back to bed.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I lay there, praying to God for healing and strength. And hope.
“How is it possible that your power raised Jesus from the dead, and yet I can barely get out of bed?” I wondered.
I prayed for God to give me a sudden, overwhelming, blinding burst of energy to restore me to health, so I could get back to work—and then, in three weeks, get the hell out of Togo.
“God, you can do this,” I prayed. “Remember the resurrection? Kinda like that. Only maybe just half the amount of power you used that Sunday morning because I’m not dead. I’m just really tired.”
As I was thinking about Jesus rising from the dead, the narrative began to play itself backward in my head, like a movie rewinding. The resurrection, then the crucifixion, then the trial, then the night before the trial, when Jesus was on his knees in Gethsemane, praying, “Not my will but yours” (Luke 22:42).
And I realized that the power that raised Jesus from the dead on Sunday morning was the same power at work in his life on Friday night.
On Sunday, the power gave him strength to rise. On Friday, the power gave him strength to die.
When I was praying for God’s power to be at work in my life, I wanted the Sunday-morning power. I wanted to be resurrected and imbued with energy.
But maybe the power at work in my life was the power that gave me strength to surrender.
I had wanted Togo to be a Sunday-morning experience. I wanted to fly back to the United States on the edge of my seat, just waiting to tell people about all my miraculous, amazing experiences in Africa, and how much I’d loved my time there.
But as I lay in bed with malaria, I began to realize that maybe the rest of my time in Togo was going to be a Friday-night experience. Maybe God was asking me surrender, to fully give myself to Togo, to be emptied of all energy and strength.
…Instead of changing my ticket to fly home early, I decided to stay.
Togo gave me a new appreciation for Jesus. Instead of having sympathy for the human condition, Emmanuel, God With Us, came down to suffer with and for us. He took the cup of hardship, loss, grief, pain, and death, and he drank it to the dregs.
Maybe, I thought as I lay in the dark that night in Togo, maybe Jesus was calling me to that same level of compassion, calling me to love the world at a great personal cost that I never would’ve chosen if it was up to me. To take the cup of suffering and drink it all, down to the dregs.
I didn’t know yet what radical compassion would look like for me when I got back to the United States, but in Togo, when the sun came up the next morning, for me, having compassion meant picking up my nearly empty water bottle, walking over to the clinic, and seeing patients in a malodorous, muggy exam room while I was hot and thirsty and tired.
It meant sharing with the Togolese people in this hardship, drinking the cup of suffering down to the dregs.
Down to the very last drop.