On the heels of the “me too” movement, the media coverage of the senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh has brought forth an outpouring of women and men sharing stories of horrific abuse and mistreatment. As much as I wanted to support those who mustered up the courage to share, I found myself wanting desperately to look away. I didn’t know how to engage, what to say, how to show support. My words seemed small. It all felt like too much, and really, it is. It is too much.
Then, a friend I hadn’t seen in many years shared his heart-breaking story and the devastating impact the abuse has had on him. My need to look away was replaced with deep sadness for someone I knew all those years ago. The protective forcefield I had constructed around my heart shattered, and I found within myself the capacity to be present to the pain of so many others who have shared similar stories. A flood of grief and lament poured from my heart when the story of one person cracked a dam I had been relying on to keep me safe—safe from pain, safe from fear, safe from heartbreak.
Yesterday I read the story of when Jesus fed the crowd of 4,000 in the wilderness. He had been teaching them for three days when He called his disciples to Himself and said,
“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.”
-Mark 8:2-3 (ESV)
Any help we can give from a pure heart begins with compassion. Jesus noticed a problem and had compassion on the people. He called attention to the problem and the disciples responded,
“How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”
Often when the Holy Spirit calls our attention to someone’s pain, our first instinct is to feel sad and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. We may feel compassion, but we can become paralyzed by our insufficiency. In their question, the disciples pointed out the obvious fact that they were in a “desolate place,” nowhere near access to the abundance of food that would be necessary to feed so many people. I love Jesus’ response in Mark 8:5:
“How many loaves do you have?”
While the disciples focused on the impossibility of feeding a crowd of hungry people, Jesus redirected their attention. To their “We don’t have enough,” Jesus seemed to respond with, “But what DO you have?” I think He responds to us the same way. When I read my friend’s story of abuse, though it is clearly a problem beyond my capability to solve, Jesus shifted my attention to “But what DO you have?” All I had was grief, and that did not seem like enough.
The disciples told Jesus that they had seven loaves of bread, which Jesus took, blessed, and broke, and the miracle of the multiplication of the bread happened in His hands. The less we have to work with, the greater the miracle He can do when we hand it over to Him. After giving bread to the people, verse 7 says that they had a “few small fish,” which He also blessed and instructed to be set before the people. When He first asked what the disciples had, perhaps the fish seemed too insignificant to even mention. As we begin to see Him work with what little we give Him, which connects us more closely to Him, He can open our eyes to other resources we didn’t even consider because they seemed so small in comparison to the problem. The people ate and were filled, and an abundance of food was leftover. Jesus could have made the food appear out of thin air, but He chose to take what the disciples had and multiply it. He desires to partner with us, allowing us to contribute our “not enough” to fulfill needs that only He is great enough to meet. We get to be in on the joy of noticing a problem, having compassion, and doing our part to share in His work in satisfying needs.
In our own nation, multitudes of people are in great pain, and recent events in the media have highlighted just one of many overwhelming ways people are hurting. I don’t know that anything I said or did made a difference to my friend in his time of need, but I do know that in the hands of Jesus, my capacity to give to others was multiplied. I cried out to the Lord on my friend’s behalf, prayed with my husband, tried unsuccessfully to get his phone number, sent him a message the only way I knew how, and followed along to see that someone who lived near him was able to help. I still don’t know how to help, but I gave what I had. I had lament, technology to get a message to him, and most importantly, the ability to cry out to a God I believe is good and just and compassionate and able to save.
After this happened, I circled back to some other friends whose pain I had been holding at a distance, and I gave them what I had: lament, prayers, words of affirmation, and gratitude for their courage in sharing their stories. Sometimes we need to give money or talent or resources or time or a hot meal or a vote in an election or a visit to a hospital. We need discernment and healthy boundaries to know what we have and what is ours to give, but let’s not downplay the gift of lament. I know from firsthand experience that sometimes when I am hurting in a way that no one can fix, the most needed gift is the validation of a friend who makes space for my grief. And who knows. Maybe if I stay connected to God, He will remind me of “a few small fish” lying around somewhere that He can use, too.
The next time you are overwhelmed and heartbroken for someone who is hurting, whether it is one person or a whole nation full of broken people, tell God about it. You might be surprised by your own answer when He whispers back, “What do you have?” Your not-enough might just pave the way for a miracle as He takes your offering, multiplies it in His mighty hands, and lavishes His abundance on His children.