Today’s Reading: Matthew 14
As he awaited his death as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, the famed theologian, pastor, and Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a letter about losing people we love. He wrote, in part:
There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve – even in pain – the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.
I love this statement: “Gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy.” Gratitude helps us deal with loss. Jesus showed us one other way to deal with the grief that accompanies the loss of people we love—compassion.
In today’s reading we see that Jesus faced loss:
When Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)
John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin. John was murdered because of a crazed and convicted adulterer and a robot of a dancing daughter. She danced before Herod, who became so intoxicated with this sensual dance, he offered her whatever she wanted. The little girl went to her mom for her advice on what to ask for. Her mother hated John because he had confronted and condemned her for sleeping with the king. She told her daughter to demand John’s head on a platter. Can you be more vindictive than that?
So Herod gave the order and had John the Baptist beheaded.
When Jesus heard the news, He withdrew out of grief and sorrow. He went to a lonely place by Himself. He wanted to be alone. Tragic death paralyzes.
The big problem for Jesus was that though He wanted to be alone to grieve and process His loss, the multitudes wanted His healing. When they realized where He had gone, they followed Him.
Now consider this . . . when He saw them, He felt compassion for them. He did not say, “Hey, I need some time alone. Let’s do this next Thursday.” Even in His deep grief, He felt something when He saw them and their needs.
This is instructive to us. This is one of the great ways to overcome our grief when we have lost a loved one. Our tendency leads us toward loneliness: “I just want to be alone,” “Give me some private time,” “I don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone,” “Just leave me alone.”
Jesus was alone, but He shows us that compassion trumps grief.
The way out of the grief funk is not through a season of loneliness but through ministering to others. When you start to tend to others’ needs, God heals you and takes care of you. The passage says, “He healed their sick.” We would say, “I need healing.”
Among all the “professional Christian counseling” and “grief counselors,” I’ve never heard them tell us in the midst of our grief to “go help others.”
Seclusion does not fix you. It’s dangerous to be left alone with your thoughts when you suffer great loss. It is in giving that you receive.