Jesus can do a lot with little acts of kindness, small steps towards faithfulness. He multiplies even the simplest sacrifice given for Him even in the most difficult times. I've learned this truth through a family near to me. This family is in my Sunday School class and recently survived the trauma of having a young grandchild with leukemia. For almost two years their grandchild, who we will call J, endured chemotherapy treatments for childhood leukemia.
Through this experience, I've learned how the church is family and what it looks like to grow with and towards one another.
Being There in the Struggle
The family survived long stays in the hospital, scary trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night, struggles with eating, unexpected fever spikes, and the placing and removing ports for chemotherapy and other medications. They experienced the painful and exhausting roller coaster of emotions from denial to grief to hope to joy. . . over and over again.
It was traumatic for everyone involved. Throughout all of this, J’s family, from Aunt C to Great-grandmother, were all a bulwark of support for J and his mom, dad, and sisters.
And throughout all of this, J’s grandparents continued to come to Sunday School and worship. They came exhausted. They came weeping. They came with J’s toddler sister in tow. They came in shifts because J was in the hospital . . . again. They came rejoicing at small steps forward and successful scans. Sometimes, they came in silence, simply present in our midst because what they were feeling and experiencing was simply beyond words.
In the Highs and Lows
During his treatment, J wasn’t always able to come to church. When he did come, he usually went charging into his classroom with big smiles on his face, clearly eager to see Miss Sheryl and play with the other kids. But during 18 months of trauma, it’s understandable that some Sundays he just felt like he wanted a hug.
One Sunday morning, J’s GiGi walked into Sunday School with a purse slung over her shoulder and both J’s arms wrapped tightly about her neck, his little legs wrapped just as tightly about her waist. We figured this was one of those days when J just needed the reassurance of GiGi’s arms more than he wanted to play with Miss Sheryl and the other kids.
“I just don’t see it happening today,” said GiGi to her husband with a slightly exasperated sigh and a bit of an arched eyebrow. Nobody missed a beat and Sunday school went on as usual. J sat quietly in his GiGi‘s lap with his soft grey blanket scrunched up under his chest and clutched tightly in one hand and his face buried against GiGi’s shoulder.
Learning From One Another
That Sunday, my group was talking about John 6:1-13, the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of thousands with the loaves and fishes of a little boy. It was an old story to most of them. Most of us had been raised in church and been familiar with the story for over 50 or 60 years.
It is our practice to approach a story like this with questions that prompt us to take a fresh look at the story. Of all the miracles of Jesus that could have been included in the book of John, why did the Holy Spirit select this one? What does this story tell us about God? About ourselves? What is meaningful to me this morning at this time in my life? People share their thoughts, and there is a lot of talking and interaction going on.
I told the story from memory of Jesus feeding the 5000 and the little boy who shared his five loaves of bread and two fish with Jesus. Meanwhile, J’s face was still buried in GiGi’s shoulder. He never looked up. He’s not disturbing anyone, but neither would anyone have thought that he was paying any attention to what we were saying.
We kept exploring the meaning of the story with the adults making various points about Jesus being sufficient for our needs, being able to multiply our resources, and providing for us. Then, as we often do, we read the story again. As we continued to talk, someone said something else about the little boy. J’s face came up off of GiGi’s shoulder. He looked at her and said something that I didn’t quite understand, but it was clearly about the little boy and Jesus and sharing lunch.
Affirming J’s participation, I said, “J, that little boy did share his lunch with Jesus. Would you share your lunch with Jesus?” And J ducked his head a little, but he didn’t disappear.
With a smile on his face, he said, clear as a bell, “I would share my sandwich with Jesus.”
And there you had it. The call to action from a 5-year-old who learned about Jesus from his family and his church family.
Being the Family
This family was a reminder that church is family. And this family—during a year more traumatic than I can possibly imagine—continued to show up for the Sunday gathering of the church. They came when it must have been 100 times easier to simply stay in bed. They came when they wanted to share everything with us and when they couldn’t find words to share anything. They enriched our lives, and I pray that we enriched theirs.
This is a story with a happy ending. J's hair grew again. He gained more energy and flashed his big smile. Today, he’s happily enjoying playing with the kids at his school. And we thank God for his life and the joy that he brings to all. Not all the children with whom he was undergoing treatment have had the same happy ending. One of J’s best friends in the hospital lost her battle with cancer, and we mourn her loss. Others continue the fight with varying levels of success.
Remember to pray for all the families in your church whose children have life-threatening illnesses. At times, their stress is so great that they can’t find words to express their needs. When you ask them, “What can I do?” they often don’t know how to answer.
Your job is to stand ready. Be ready to practice the ministry of "Presence and Prayer." Be present. Pray for them. Listen. Don’t offer opinion or suggestions. Don’t critique their doctors, their treatment plan, or their choices. Find ways to support them, to encourage them, to be with them. Take food. Do the laundry. Pick up the dog from the groomer’s.
Share the crises, the pain, the small successes, and the fears with them. Weep when they weep. Rejoice when they rejoice. Practice the ministry of Presence and Prayer. Be willing to share your metaphorical sandwich with them, and watch how Jesus meets their need.