Gather and Feed

When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’   (John 6:12)

The painful irony of where I was and what I was going through caused my chest to hurt. I was at a large behavioral health center to receive an award on how I had helped connect this agency to the county government, but I hadn’t been able to save my daughter from her own mental health challenges. I had helped many, but I had failed Anna.

Before I was to receive recognition, the board of directors had to consider a few other matters. As I was waiting to the side, I wasn’t paying any attention to their deliberations until the new medical director was introduced.

When I heard she had most recently been very involved with outpatient services at Yale University, my head snapped up because that’s where Anna had been receiving help for much of the last six months. As this doctor was leaving the stage, I went straight toward her. I introduced myself and said I would like to speak to her because my daughter had been going through their program and she had just died. The doctor’s eyes got really big, and it was clear she didn’t know how to respond. Meanwhile, I was being introduced, and someone on the staff from the agency had to pull me away so that I could be thanked and say a few words.

When my part of the program was finished, the doctor was waiting for me, and she asked if I would like to talk in her office.

So, there we were together. She didn’t know me, I didn’t know her, and we were about to embark on a really tender and intimate conversation. I can’t say that I remember all I shared about Anna, but I do remember the doctor’s probing questions: What do you want to learn? Why do you want to learn it? Why do you want to speak to someone from the program? Why is this information so important to you?

At one point, I stopped the flow of the questions because I didn’t exactly know why I was so driven to learn all I could from this woman. And then I had an insight. I said, “I don’t want to offend your spiritual sensibilities, but I would like to share a story about Jesus.”

She said, “I’m fine with you talking about Jesus.”

I said, “Do you remember the accounts of Jesus feeding the five thousand using only a boy’s lunch?”

She said she did.

I continued, “At the end of that day, Jesus asked his disciples to gather up all the fragments so that nothing would be lost. I’ve always believed he was asking them to gather up the leftovers so that they would have something to eat the next day.”

She asked, “Why are you telling me this story?”

I said, “It is my hope and prayer that Jesus will gather up all the fragments of my broken heart so that, someday and somehow, He might use all of my pain and grief to feed, bless, and support other people who are going through their own pain and grief.”

I know I’m not unique or special or alone in my grief. Rare is the person who hasn’t had their heart broken. Losing a child brings its own excruciating pain, but so does losing your parents, losing your spouse to death, betrayal, or divorce, losing your business or career, or simply losing your way or desire to live. We are all more fragile and vulnerable than we often realize and admit. We are all one phone call away from having our hearts broken.

There are so many ways we can respond to having a broken heart, and many of those ways only deepen and perpetuate the pain. We can harden our hearts and shut everyone out. We can die before we die. We can become brittle and filled with anger, resentments, or cynicism. Or, we can, by grace, gather up the fragments and ask for Jesus to put us back together, heal us, and then use us to help others. Jesus didn’t want any of the fragments to be lost on that day long ago when he fed the five thousand, and He doesn’t want anything we go through—even our tragedies and losses and griefs—to be lost either.

At the end of the day, when all five thousand had been satisfied, Jesus asked the twelve to gather up the leftovers. I don’t, obviously, have a group of twelve who are working for me, but I do have the love and support and prayers of more people than I can count. Daily I hear from someone. Daily the pieces of my heart are being brought back together. And I am writing these “notes” with the hope that my words will touch and bless someone I know, or someone I don’t, with healing grace.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How might Jesus asking the twelve to gather up the fragments after feeding the five thousand apply to your life?
  1. When has your own heart been broken? How did you respond as you looked at the fragments of your life? How did Jesus respond?
  1. Could Jesus right now be wanting to work through all you have been through to feed, help, and support someone else? If so, how?

2 thoughts on “Gather and Feed

  1. Megan Burns

    Thank you for your courage to be vulnerable. Many hide during their grieving process. Your authenticity may very well be someone else’s roadmap in their grieving process. Keep writing

  2. Don Morgan

    Fr Jim, Your words from your healing heart have once again touched my healing heart.
    You have helped me understand that God is always holding me in His hands.
    Peace and love to you.
    Don Morgan

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