When Jesus heard what had happened (John the Baptist was killed), he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
- Matthew 14:13-14 NIV
As a mother, no passage of the Bible is more convicting to me than this very simple story of Jesus's compassionate heart.
Yes, we all know that Jesus was an amazing teacher, healer and friend to the persistent crowds who followed him wherever he went, some loving him truly, others just hoping to witness a miracle.
Some people just take this story as they find it, and say to themselves, "Well, yeah- he was the Son of God! That's what he ought to have been doing, and more besides!"
But keeping in mind that Jesus was also a human being, look at the circumstances of Jesus's compassion.
His great friend, the one who baptized him, has just been beheaded for the entertainment of Herod's dinner guests. Not only is Jesus sad for his friend, but he probably could see in this sordid tale an echo of his own future suffering. He knew the road he was going to walk, and I can't imagine this event not bringing the reality of his own death to mind, the way the death of a friend pulls the ground out from under you or I, revealing that our own hold on life is tenuous at best.
I'm sure Jesus wanted to be alone to mourn his friend, and probably to have some quiet prayer time to receive comfort from God. He withdraws PRIVATELY to a SOLITARY place. He expects to land his boat and maybe have a quiet nature walk. To hear only silence echoing in his eardrums- no needs to meet, no hurting people demanding his time, no critiques or questions from disciples or Pharisees. This is certainly what I would have wanted, and as Jesus was a man, I'm sure it's what he wanted too.
Can you imagine landing your boat under those circumstances and seeing a mob of people waiting to throng you with their endless, endless needs? Heal me! Teach me! Help me!
I think I would have crumbled and wanted to die. That's how I feel sometimes when Kyle is out of town, especially if one of the kids is sick or if I have an especially busy week with a number of places to run.
I've always desperately needed alone time to rejuvenate myself. I love to read quietly, sit quietly, and let my thoughts meander without interruption.
I think that's why motherhood was so rough for me the first couple of years. I just could not get used to never being alone, never NOT having a need to meet. Endless, endless days- changing diapers, wiping snot, giving baths, comforting, soothing, crying myself to sleep because I was so tired I couldn't sleep (the irony!). And now that there's less of those physical needs, there's more mental and emotional needs to meet.
I feel that my brain is co-opted by three ceaseless little tyrants- "Mom. What did you do with my McDonald's coupon. Mom. When can we use my McDonald's coupon? Mom. Why don't we ever go to McDonald's? Mom. Mrs. Summers says it's time to put the Halloween decorations up. Mom, can we put them up? Mom, can I have a snack? (Right now behind me is Owen reading the Pop Tarts box- "Mom, can we order a Pop Tart shirt? All I want is that shirt. That one right there. Look at it.") Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom! Make a decision! Make it now! And know that whatever you say, however abstracted your brain is, we will try to hold you to it with the tyrannical words "BUT YOU SAID...".
(This problem actually led me to ban the words "you said" from my house last year; I told them the only thing that matters is obeying Mommy RIGHT NOW. I'm not sure if that was exactly the right way to handle it.)
I just can't imagine having patience for the multitudes like Jesus did. I can't even deal with three little children without a break!
And yet, much in need of a solace, hoping for a little "me" time- Jesus lands, sees the crowds, and HAS COMPASSION on them and heals their sick!
How did he do it? There's really no answer except that he relied on God utterly, and never pulled back his heart. No matter how tired he was, his heart could still go out to hurting people; he never withdrew into himself and pitied himself as I so often do. He totally exemplified the grace of compassion; the act of feeling with others.
For me, compassion rarely springs of its own accord, but needs to be cultivated. It's just not a natural part of my nature. I am a more logical person, and I've noticed that for passionate, emotional people- compassion flows more naturally.
A few of them, I like to watch and learn from; my cousin Stephanie, my friend Mike. They are natural "feelers" and as such, never lack empathy and always have time for friends who are in need. I noticed that even back in high school, everyone felt that Mike was their best friend. I used to wonder what it was about him that endeared him to everyone, regardless of peer group or status, and now that I am a Christian, I realize that the same thing that draws people to Mike is what drew people to Jesus; true and deep compassion for others.
I truly desire this for my own heart, and fervently believe that it isn't good enough to simply say "I'm not that type of person" and leave it at that. Just because I have to work hard to be compassionate doesn't mean I am off the hook. When the kids are crying and need me, and I am emotionally worn out, wanting to just wall myself into a cone of silence and retreat, is it okay to do that? Are my kids going to stop needing just because I want to stop giving? Of course not!
And I know that God is with me in each baby step I take toward feeling with my kids, experiencing with them each scrape, bruise, or welling feeling of injustice, and not brushing them off with my usual "Well, you shouldn't have been running in the house!" or "Well, life's not fair!"
Not that I'm saying my kids are never in the wrong. Of course there's a time to check whining and complaining, a time to review the house rules (no running), a time to teach the valuable and true lesson that life isn't fair. But I know all these lessons mean so much more coming from a warm and compassionate woman who loves them like crazy than from a mom who turns her back on them when they are in need because she just "can't deal with it right now!"
However, knowing that is one thing; doing it in the heat of the moment, when I am tired, cranky, and overwhelmed is quite another. That's when I need God and I need prayer.