THESE DAYS, I'M LEARNING A LOT ABOUT WHAT WHOLENESS LOOKS LIKE— AND IT'S UTTERLY SHATTERING.
At the dawn of every new year, I try to choose a word to define the year, to put a focusing lens on an area I'd like to grow into. I'm a typical enneagram Type 4, meaning I wrestle with the feeling that something is missing in my life, opening up the backdoor to comparison, restlessness, and a lack of feeling entirely capable and whole. At the tail-end of 2019, the concept behind wholeness began to rattle around in my mind, so I branded the word onto my heart when 2020 rolled around.
Who knew that 2020 would be the year that felt like everything would be trampled, stolen, and ripped up from the roots?
2020 trudged through and felt like it left a sludge of brokenness and division in its wake. By the time the year began to tie its shoelaces to run away, the missing—the missing of traditions, people who walked out the door, normalcy—became a very real and tangible thing, leaving me to wonder, where does wholeness fit into the picture when everything feels fractured and flawed?
A TRAIL OF BREADCRUMBS
In the middle of Mark's gospel account, the author mentions two feedings almost back to back. Now, most of us have grown up hearing the story of how Jesus fed a stadium-crowd from a kid's lunch, but if we skim over these well-known passages, we might miss the big picture...
Here's the setup: the disciples just came back from being sent away by Jesus. After performing miracle after miracle on their own, they come running back exclaiming, "Jesus, look at what we did, we followed your footsteps. We took that step of faith. We healed others. We cast out demons." Joy and pride rang among the twelve when Jesus calls them away not to a place of celebration but to a place of desolation: "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while" (v. 31).
I don't know about you, but when I accomplish something big, a day trip to the desert sounds less than ideal. But here, Jesus tells the disciples to scrap the striving and simply rest with Him—another reminder that striving hard and fast and wanting to do everything to the best of our ability for His glory isn't necessarily bad. But successes without resting and without reevaluating what is actually filling us up leads to burnout. It can lead to the mindset that we need to earn affection rather than simply take inventory of what He's given us. God values stillness, minimalism, and a distraction-free environment if that means He gets our wholehearted focus.
As we trace the trail of bread crumbs through the story, we learn that it's not long before a multitude of people hear that Jesus is near, and soon the disciples are surrounded by nearly 5000 men (not to mention their families), starving not only for hope but also for food. What I love about Jesus is that He doesn't dismiss or displace the crowd's physical needs over their spiritual needs. He has compassion for the crowd and is determined not to let them leave without their fill, telling the disciples "You give them something to eat" (v. 37).
How do the disciples respond to what Jesus commissions them to do? With doubt. With skepticism. With human logic that can't grapple with the miraculous. I can see them standing next to Jesus counting on their fingers how much money it would take to feed 5000+ people. But isn't that just like us?
When God poses challenging circumstances and we try to use human reasoning to scale the problem, we still come up short changed.
So while the disciples are calculating the logistics of such an impossible feat, Jesus asks what they have to start with. "Five loaves and two fish," they respond. Now, I'm more of an English girl (grammar makes more sense to me than geometry), but if you pay attention to the math, the morsels add up to seven. In the Bible, seven holds the significance of completion, perfection, wholeness. Observing this little crumb of knowledge, I think Jesus was probably smiling to himself wishing He could scream to the disciples, "Look, you have all you need. Where you see scarcity, I see substance. Seven seals the deal. The miracle's already complete." Instead, watch what He does...
And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces. (Mark 6:41-44)
The feeding of the 5000 was only a snapshot of the things to come. I remember once hearing my pastor say that as Jesus performed the Passover rituals—blessing, breaking, and giving away the bread—he foreshadowed the disciples' futures. He laid it all out on the table that He was about to bless them with grace to endure the process, break their lives through persecution, and He gives their lives away to others to feed, heal, and sustain the broken, the hurting, and the oppressed.
What gets me is that not only was the crowd fully fed but also fully satisfied. Jesus wasn't frugal with the feast, so much so that twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered and given away. I bet a smile crept on the edge of Jesus' lips as he watched the twelve haul twelve basket fulls of broken pieces to be given away as if to say, "This is only the beginning of the miracles you'll experience in your life."
Mark's gospel is known as "The Traveling Gospel." It's why it's the shortest, most compact of the four accounts. No frill. No fluff. So if you think about it, why did the author mention the feedings? I mean, the miracle didn't exactly give a blind man his sight or help a cripple regain his footing in life; it wasn't a healing or a walk-on-water wonder. It met a very fleeting physical need. But it serves as a monument to all the broken pieces that seem like they don't ever serve a purpose.
Our picture of wholeness and God's picture of wholeness are vastly different. We gravitate towards security, stability, health, all-around-togetherness—concepts that almost sound like a human right—that's why brokenness is such a foreign concept. But while we break, He's blessing. While we crumble, He's feeding and sustaining. After our image of wholeness cracks, when we feel like we're scraping the bottom of the barrel, He lays out a trail of breadcrumbs leading us back to a basket full of abundance and truth.
FILLING THE HOLES
The thing is, God doesn't sustain us off of crumbs but with a storehouse of love, mercy, and grace.
Whatever 2020, or any of these other years, has stolen, smashed, and crumbled He is restoring tenfold. So that when we find a crumb trail in our own lives, it directs us back to the moment, the memory, the place where we thought we had lost it all—turns out He was giving us above and abundantly all that we could ask or even imagine. He's asking us to stand in the gap between our own feelings of confidence and capability or lack thereof, to break our own doubts, fears, cynicism, and misgivings, and to give us away to a few starving hearts. He wants to gather up the scraps of our transformation stories to broadcast to a broken world how healing and wholeness are available to us all. And suddenly, when we step back, we can see that we aren't reduced to the blaring holes in our lives. In the end, we'll be staring at the overwhelming leftovers, comforted that nothing was ever truly missing.