John the Baptist, the man Jesus once referred to as “the greatest,” the man who became the bridge between the old law and the new, and the man who prepared the world to meet the Hero that would save it. He was literal family to Jesus, and he was deeply loved.
His ministry had been prophesied about for centuries, and he paved the way for the true “Greatest” this world has ever known. All of this—-and he was put to death because a teenage girl had seduced a wicked king and asked for the head of John the Baptist as a gift.
John had plans for his future. I imagine his mother, Elizabeth, had plans for him, too…plans that did not include the death of her son by beheading. And Jesus, the One Who caused John to “leap for joy” in his mother’s womb—-well, when He heard the news of the death, He removed Himself from everyone to be alone in His grief.
He withdrew from His friends, got on a boat and sought a desolate place. It’s interesting to me that the Bible describes where Jesus was seeking to retreat as “desolate.” There’s so much emotion packed into that one little word described as “a state of bleak and dismal emptiness.” When used as a verb, the word means “to make a place depressingly empty or bare.”
During your times of grief, have you ever felt so completely overwhelmed that you wanted nothing more than to just disappear into a dark place empty of all people and possibly even empty of thought itself?
I have. Jesus has, too.
I remember the morning after Mom passed away waking up on my couch and the shock of what had just transpired the day before hit me unlike anything I could find the words to describe. It was literally the moment my eyes opened, and the only thing I could do was call my grandmother and sob. I had no words, just pure emotion. It was fear, emptiness, anger, desperation, disgust, and total heart break all coming out at once.
Mom’s death was so sudden that the shock of it may never be something I can part with. It’s been two years, and I have moved forward in my life and have experienced many good times, but, I have also moved forward with grief. I never understood before when I saw others still seeming to struggle years after their loved ones had passed.
I get it now.
I don’t remember why I had to go to a gas station the day after Mom passed away. To be honest, most of my memory from that day is pretty foggy, but I do remember feeling completely empty when I walked up to the register to pay for whatever it was I needed. I wanted the world to stop and recognize what had just happened. My world had stopped. But, instead, the lady behind the counter smiled and said “good morning, is that all you need?” She had no idea that, at the time, it felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest.
When I read Matthew 14
I wonder if Jesus was feeling the same thing I felt that day. He was grieving the loss of someone He loved. He was desperately trying to remove Himself and get away from everyone and everything to be alone with His grief in the most desolate place He could find.
“But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.”
Life doesn’t stop. For you, time may feel like it’s no longer moving, but then you walk into a gas station the morning after the absolute worst day of your life and the lady behind the cash register asks you a question like it’s any other bright and cheery day.
As crushed as I was for myself after losing Mom, I was even more heartbroken for my sweet dad. At the time, he had been battling a Stage IV cancer diagnosis for three years, and I did not want him to be alone. It felt like an impossible situation, and my life quickly shifted to doing all I could to help him with bills, medical appointments, work benefits, etc. We’d talk on the phone every night, right around 8:30 p.m. If I didn’t call him by then, he’d call me. We visited a TON, and I was able to grow close to Dad in a way I’m not so sure would have happened had Mom still been here. I guess that's one silver lining that came after Mom's death. Less than two months ago, after battling cancer for over 5 years, Dad met Jesus and my mama.
Life has shifted again.
This time, it involves me trying to figure out this world without my parents. I’m 32 years old, so I figure if I am blessed to live a long, healthy life, I have more time left on this earth without my parents than I had on this earth with them. That’s a sobering thought, one I couldn’t fathom when I lost my mom so suddenly, and sometimes, I still find myself trying to withdraw from the world around me so I can escape to a quiet place, empty of all people who might need something from me.
As humans, I believe that is our nature during the hard times.
It’s Matthew 14, however, that helped me find a new way to move forward with my grief. I had known the story about Jesus feeding the “multitude” since I was barely able to speak, but until I read it while I was grieving, I didn’t grasp the reality behind how much love was shown by Jesus to the crowds that just wouldn’t leave Him alone. Before Jesus could even find land or a place to escape, the masses had gathered at the shore to meet Him. Much like the world you and I live in today, it didn’t stop for Jesus either.
“When Jesus landed and saw them, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, ‘this is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. Give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘we have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.’”
And then, Jesus performed one of His most remarkable miracles yet. He fed the thousands.
When I think
of all the people close to me who have been able to move forward after a loss great enough to wreck their lives, I can’t help but think they were able to move forward because they found others who needed help healing.
I think about my Aunt Lynn who, after losing her baby girl just hours after she was born, continued her nursing career in the women and infant unit, providing love and support for families experiencing similar trauma. She also worked with the hospital to establish a palliative care program, and to this day, there is a support group that comes in at all hours of the day to be there for the families and the mamas who are facing incredible loss.
I also think about my grandparents who, after losing their only child, found a way to move forward by helping those in need: their neighbors, their family, those in their community, others in areas that have been devastated by natural disasters, and really anyone and anywhere they find a need.
There are many personal examples of those in my own life who choose to find others to help during times of grief, and I believe if you paused to think about a few in your life, you could find some examples, too. Because, even when we’re grieving, the world doesn’t stop, and it is full of people who need each and every one of us.
When the crowds gathered before Jesus could find rest, He didn’t send them away. He healed them. He fed them. He ministered to their needs in the same way He healed the woman with the issue of blood who had been cast away by her community for over a decade—in the same way He healed the blind men who were following behind Jesus and crying out to Him. Jesus didn’t heal people who were quietly asking for favors. They practically chased him, and He had compassion every single time.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in life
it’s that this world is full of people who may never know the grief that’s tucked away deep inside you, and those people may call upon you at the most inconvenient times. And, when they do, it’s an opportunity to have compassion on them and tend to their needs. That’s what hospitality is all about. It’s not about what’s in it for the hosts or what can be gained by the people to whom you extend an invitation. It’s about filling our homes and surrounding our tables with people who are just as in need as we are of some kind of healing.