When I first started school, my mother encouraged me out the door with a promise: “When you come back, there’ll be a snack and we’ll have talk-time.”
She was telling the truth, too: I came home to a little piece of first-day-of-school cake. And after she’d dished it up, my mom sat down across from me and said, “Okay, what happened at school today?”
I am thirty-three now, and we still have our daily talk. All because she was willing – and is willing – to sacrifice some space in her day to sit down and listen. These talks are part of what makes us so close; they’ve seen me through difficult times and celebratory ones. And they cost nothing.
And she wasn’t, and isn’t, the only one making the sacrifice. My Granny used to sit on the couch, delighted, to hear my clarinet “concerts.” My Pawpaw, despite his aching back, would sit on the couch to play store with me for hours. My dad would sometimes take me on his truck run to introduce me to his friends and eat lunch with me despite the fact that it slowed him down. Again, none of these activities cost anything but time – and yet they are some of my best memories of family, and love, and care.
What this brings to mind for me is the feeding of the five thousand. And my concern is not the material miracle of the food in this case, but the sacrifice of Christ’s time. Jesus is in dire emotional straits here: he’s just received news of John the Baptist’s beheading (Matt. 14:13). He withdraws to be alone, but the desperate crowds follow him. Jesus heals them, and the disciples express concern about the food supply and the late hour (Matt. 14:15):
This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.
I wonder if their concern was entirely food-related. I suspect not. I imagine that they were bone-weary, too, and aware of Jesus’ weariness and pain. They were ready to close up shop and call it a day. They’ve watched Jesus extend Himself even in a time of grief, and now they’re ready to draw a line. Food becomes the boundary, their reason to send the crowds home and end the day.
But Jesus says no.
They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.
Tired and hungry and grieving, Jesus provided food, yes – but more than that, He provided time. He sacrificed his own needs to give his time to others. He refused to leave. I like to believe that the food was incidental – it met a physical need, certainly, but the offering of Jesus’ time and compassion met a spiritual one.
It’s the same offering that my mother made when she sat down at a little table with me after school. It’s the same one my grandmother made as my clarinet squawked through the afternoon. It’s the same one my grandpa made every time I “bought” a banana from him for a penny, or that my dad made when we waited in line together for lunch. Time. Time spent together. Time to talk and share and grow. Time to be with each other.
During the holiday season, it’s easy to fall into the charity assembly line: to send a shoebox here and some canned food there, and here there and everywhere a few dollars. And those needs are important. Believers absolutely must meet material needs with material resources; Jesus did. He didn’t shirk from providing food when it became a practical necessity.
But time is precious, too. Your time matters, especially in a holiday season where precious seconds are always in demand. How you spend your hours has the potential to be one of your biggest and most generous gifts. Pause and stop and look around: to whom can you give your time today? With the practical gift of food must come the spirit-nourishing gift of presence; we mustn’t abandon one for the other.