The day we were told our six-month-old daughter, Annie, had a fatal brain tumor, my husband and I were alone. We had driven to the closest children’s hospital two hours away, desperate for answers. Not many people knew we were there, since so many doctors had assured us that her sudden symptoms were not life threatening.
I remember the click of the doorknob as the Emergency Room Doctor came in and the way she gently told us the very worst news before whisking her away to do further testing. Peter and I found ourselves in a small hallway, staring at one another, so very far away from the life we had known just moments before. The elevator doors kept opening just a few feet from our chairs, people getting on and off. They stared strangely at us, then went on to their normal lives.
Until. Until the doors opened and we looked up to see the faces of friends. Though we hadn’t known they were coming, though we didn’t ask them to come, they came anyway. We dissolved into new tears, humbled and overwhelmed they had dropped their lives to be with us at a time we needed it most. Family started to trickle in and before we knew it, we were surrounded. As we began a very dark, difficult journey, we knew we weren’t alone.
As a child, I’d often heard the story in Matthew 14 when Jesus fed five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and fish. But there’s a similar story just a chapter later. There were fewer people (four thousand), and the same sparse dinner ingredients (seven loaves and a few small fish) were multiplied and fed to them. However, it’s the wording of the second story that struck me.
Great crowds of people came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and He healed them.
(Matthew 15:30, NIV)
Can you see it: the mass of hurting people, longing for Jesus, but unable to get there alone? The lame are led through the rocky terrain by a family member—the blind, holding on to the arm of a friend. The crippled are carried by several others. And so, along with those who were seeking Jesus for healing that day, there were those who came alongside: people who were invested, people who hurt deeply, people who were watching those they loved suffer.
There are times in our lives when we are too weak on our own. We need others to surround us, to lead us to Jesus.
And there are times when we must come alongside others who are hurting, ignoring what it may cost us, dropping everything to bring our loved ones to the feet of Jesus.
When I imagine those who carried the crippled, lame and blind up the mountain that day, I wonder. Were they weary? Were they determined? Were they worried about a lifetime of physical and financial care for loved ones who couldn’t take care of themselves?
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.
(Matthew 15:32, NIV)
When we’re faced with a diagnosis, a long term illness, a sadness that threatens to suck out our very life, Jesus has compassion. When we make the sacrifice to join in another one’s suffering, Jesus has compassion. Do you see this? He connects with sorrow; He expresses love and sadness together with us.
He does what the crowd came for—healing their outside wounds—but he also does what they don’t expect. He feeds them—all of them. He doesn’t just feel sympathy, but takes action. He sees the broken crowd of people suffering together, and He joins with them.
He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
I weep when I read those words, because I think of that day in the hospital, as we wondered how we would ever go back to our home and back to our lives. We left the hospital with an empty carseat and shattered hearts, broken pieces of our lives scattered around us, never to be put together in the same way again.
But our friends carried us to Jesus. They didn’t leave our side as we grieved. They surrounded us, they stood with us, and they prayed for us. When I look at our lives today, seven years later, I see the broken pieces of our grieving and how Jesus has brought healing and redemption out of what we thought was so hopeless. Even in the sorrow, we are satisfied.
We all see glimpses of ourselves in the people on the mountain:
Desperate to feel the touch of Jesus.
Tired from walking alongside.
Overwhelmed by the mountain ahead.
Surrounded by broken pieces.
Hungry for more.
Dear Friend, can I whisper this truth to you? Jesus’ compassion is for you, too. As the hopeless tears run down your face, as you struggle with each breath, wondering when your joy will return…
You may need someone to take you to Jesus, or you may be the one holding the hand of a grieving loved one. Do you trust Him with the broken leftovers in your heart? Lift your weary heart to Him and see how He gently heals. He holds your broken life, and like a healing balm to your soul, He promises to restore and redeem.
Perhaps the miracle that day on the mountain wasn’t only that Jesus healed the people and turned a bit of food into a feast. Maybe the miracle was that He saw their broken pieces, their broken hearts and He made it into something beautiful and satisfying.
May you find Him today, in your brokenness. May you dare to see His compassion for you, trading your weariness for hope and your sorrow for joy.
Sarah Damaska is a faithful contributor to Soul Care Collective.