“IImmediately he had the disciples get into a boat and pass by on the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. And after dismissing the crowd, he went up the mountain alone to pray. (Matthew 14:22-23)
Parents never seem to find enough time for themselves. Especially when children are young, a parent’s self-care often seems to be the one thing that suffers the most. Between regular activities, illnesses and emergencies, the little free time young parents have often evaporates amidst a mountain of other obligations.
This story from the Gospel of Matthew has always been one of my favorites. This is the very end of the famous story of “feeding the five thousand”. To understand how applicable it is to modern parents, we need to start at the beginning.
Jesus has just learned that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been murdered. Matthew tells us that when Jesus heard this news, “he retired alone in a boat to a desert place”.
Unfortunately, by the time Jesus gets across the lake to this “lonely place,” he discovers that it isn’t so lonely after all. The crowd, it seems, followed him. (They apparently have little notion of “healthy boundaries”.)
You might guess that Jesus would be angry with them or feel sorry for himself. But that’s not what the text says. Matthew tells us that Jesus “has compassion” on them.
I have already written to you about this word “compassion”. The Greek word here — “splagchnizomai” — means to be moved with deep emotion. It is a visceral, physical reaction of love and sympathy to the pain or suffering of others. It’s the same as that complex wave of feelings you get when a child needs something and you would do anything in your power to help.
That’s what Jesus does. He healed the sick and ended up feeding over 5,000 people with a few fish, loaves and bread.
This is the part of the story that we find incredible. And we often stop saying it here. But that’s exactly when those little verses at the top of this page take place.
After Jesus has met human need, fed the hungry, healed the sick…he sends them away!
He also dismisses his disciples. Then, he looks around to find that he’s *finally* alone… finally able to spend the quality time he was looking for hours ago. And so, he goes up “all alone on the mountain to pray”.
Isn’t this the perfect story for parents?
Despite all our efforts, our child’s needs never fit into clear and pre-programmed schedules.
But we can draw hope and inspiration from the fact that it was so for Jesus too. Parenting, like the ministry of Jesus, is the art of dealing with the almost constant “interruptions” of “others” in need.
This does not mean that self-care is impossible. But that could mean we might get frustrated if we expect self-care to follow a rigid routine, every morning at 9:15 a.m. Maybe we’ll have to schedule time late at night or early in the morning. . Flexibility, in ministry and parenthood, seems to be key.
By all means, respond compassionately to the needs of your children. That’s what good parents do. But once you’ve met those needs, do the rest of what Jesus did, too.
Send everyone away for a while and spend some time taking care of yourself. If Jesus can do it, hard as it may seem sometimes, so can you.
ERIC FOLKERTH is senior pastor at Kessler Park United Methodist Church. Call 214.560.4212 or email [email protected] for advertising information.