When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Matthew 14:13a
Read Matthew 14:8-22
Grief Comes in Many Forms
Grief is an emotion that takes your breath away. Most often we think of grief and death together. One could make a fair case that grief is most keenly felt at the loss of a loved one. In truth, loss comes in many forms. Sometimes it is a career that we simply can’t have, or something our body can no longer do, a hobby that is no longer possible, or something that once brought us joy is no longer there. Loss leaves a hole. Enter grief; the sadness we feel as our hearts mourn a loss.
Grief can be crippling. The sadness can feel so heavy and unbearable that we become paralyzed.
Coping With Grief by Withdrawing
When John the Baptist died, the Bible records Jesus’ time of grief and it is a great lesson for us. Best we can tell, Jesus was actively teaching when he learned about the fellow minister’s murder. John the Baptist was gruesomely beheaded, more or less as part of a vengeful party favor (Matthew 14:1-11). We learn that as soon as John’s disciples buried him they went to tell Jesus. The first thing Jesus does is “withdraw…to a desolate place by himself,” (Matthew 14:13).
If you’ve been told that someone or something you love is gone, chances are that you remember that moment. I can vividly remember the death of my family pets, grandparents, an uncle and finally my Dad. I remember that first sickening feeling in my gut, the one where hope feels gone and the pain unbearable. Like Jesus, I just wanted to be alone. For just a moment, I want to cry with no one looking. I want to be able to cry out to the Lord, in prayer, all by myself.
As a Mom, I’m a little jealous of Jesus’ alone time. I could really use a private boat and desolate place where no one could find me. What must it be like to totally escape? Unfortunately, I would be abandoning a small tribe of children, one young enough to legitimately need me every couple of hours, so a trip to the restroom or the mailbox alone will have to suffice. We won’t even discuss the cell phone, which has practically made going off the grid impossible. If your kids don’t know where you are, every app on your phone surely does. Sadly, it’s not easy for Christians today to totally escape, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
We don’t know how long it took, but Jesus was interrupted. The Bible says that as soon as the crowds heard about where he was, people came in droves looking for him. We can assume he had some time alone to grieve but when his boat came back to civilization, his ministry was waiting for him.
Coping With Grief By Doing the Lord’s Work
Just like that, life goes on. The work of the Lord never stops. Because we work for the Lord, our work never stops either. However, the crowds had to wait while Jesus could not be found. Just because he wasn’t physically present, it didn’t mean that the needs of others stopped. It does mean that people could wait, for even the Messiah, to mourn. We too, can confidently take the time we need to get away and mourn or simply take time alone with the Lord and rest easy knowing that God is still on his throne. The work will be there when we return, but we will be all the better prepared.
So, what did Jesus do when confronted with a crowd of people who needed him, while no doubt troubles of his own still lingered in his mind? The Bible says, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14) He went right back to work. This is the beginning of the famous miracle where Jesus refuses to turn away the crowd of hungry people and takes five loaves of bread and two fish and miraculously feeds around five thousand people.
When the work is finished, Jesus dismisses his disciples and goes back up on to a mountain by himself to pray.
This was no ordinary day and Jesus is no ordinary man. One might argue that because Jesus is fully human and fully God then of course he has the ability to withstand trial, push through the grief and hardship, and move on. But, as Christians, we have that same power through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We do not fight our battles alone. The presence of God walks alongside us and in our weakest moment, when we feel like the burden is to heavy to bear, the work never ceases, and we can’t catch a break, the Holy Spirit guides and gives us what we need in the moment.
Like Jesus, we too need to withdraw in the hard moments of life. Solitude and time with the heavenly Father in prayer is rejuvenating. It gives us the strength to see past ourselves, and like Jesus, we can be empowered with compassion to serve others around us, even in the midst of our own heartbreak and trials.
When the work is over, we can go right back to God expecting his strength and our next assignment.
“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” Jeremiah 31:25