The only regret I have about my book Who Does He Say You Are? is that I couldn't include every encounter Jesus had with a woman. They are each so rich in mercy and goodness that it feels a shame to neglect them. Especially when I did not get to write about one of my favorite Jesus moments: the story of the little girl who was not dead, but only sleeping. Jesus’ words to her, “Talitha koum,” are my favorite words he says in all the Gospels—and that's saying something. Here’s why.
I am a firm believer in doing hard and holy things. I believe surrendering to God’s call to the live the Gospel is the heart of passionate, purposeful living. But can I tell you another truth about that kind of living? It can make you tired. Really tired. Not the “I need a nap” tired or “Let’s take a weekend away” tired that can be fixed with a little R&R. It’s a nerve-level exhaustion that comes from living on high alert all the time; an exhaustion that comes from being sensitive to the world around you and its needs, and constantly tuning in to how God might be asking you to respond.
It is good living, friends, but it is tough. It's a bit like walking around with a low-grade fever all the time. The noise levels feel louder; there’s always a little tremble in your bones; your joints are full of a dull ache. If you don’t listen to the warning signs of that fever, the dull ache becomes a heavy fatigue that makes you slow to listen, slow to comprehend, slow to respond.
If you let it, that fatigue will become a lethargy so powerful that it will make you dead tired. You will lie still and lifeless, not even the slightest reaction to the world around you. You will withdraw to a place within you where you are present but gone—breathing slowly so as not to let the world know you are still there.
I have felt the fever in my bones these last few months, friends. The aching tiredness with symptoms that I recognize all too well, but whose cause seems ever-elusive. Much like the nebulous medical categories of chronic fatigue, there is a spiritual chronic fatigue that no one can quite seem to pin down. Those who live with it know it is real, but if you ask us to describe it, we falter. We don’t know exactly why we’re so tired. We just know we need a solution.
There was a little girl once whose fever left her dead tired. So much so that her family and friends believed her to be actually dead. They called in the mourners and lamented as she lay motionless (Mk 5: 35-43).
Image: Wikimedia Commons.
The world is all too ready, friends, to ring the death knell; all too ready to sing a lamenting song for your exhausted heart. Sometimes we begin to see rest as dangerous because we know how tired we are. We worry that if we lie down for just a little while, perhaps the circling ones will start to mourn a bit too soon.
But Jesus knows dead tired when he sees it. And he doesn’t mourn in response to it. Instead, he reaches out his hand and offers a quiet but firm command to our listless souls: “Talitha koum.” The Bible translators tell us it means, “Little girl, get up.” But there is a familiarity in the connotation of the word, so that what she hears is, “Arise, precious one.”
Jesus sees it. He sees the life left in us. He knows we are leveled in our exhaustion, that we let the fever do its work, and that we forgot to ask for his hand to save us. Even as the lamenters laugh at his hope for our weary souls, he speaks to us. He calls us back to life and gives us the power to overcome the fatigue that has left us limp and lifeless.
“Rise up,” he says. And he offers his hand. Because rising on our own is a lost cause. No life of hard and holy things can be sustained with our own muscle power. Only his hand and his gentle leading voice can bring us to life.
Let us find health and strength in his hand outstretched to us—even when we have worked beyond his will and our own capacity. Let us rise again to listen and eat the eucharistic food that he offers. Let us be tuned in to the hard and holy work of the Kingdom, not by the strength of our weak flesh, but by the slow and gentle command of his leading.
Talitha koum, friend. You are not dead, just resting. He sees you. He is reaching out to you. And he says, “Rise, precious one. Put your hand in my hand and be held. Open your lips and be sustained. The fever has subsided and there is new life in you. Walk again.” I feel a new strength in my bones today.