In March of 2020, truly the very day the whole country shut down for covid, I traumatically broke my left leg after a dramatic encounter with a pigeon on a ladder. And I’m not talking like a cute little hairline fracture that put me in a fun purple cast making 3rd graders jealous of all the attention I was getting, broken. No, we’re talking tibia and fibula both shattered, emergency surgery, 4 days of antibiotics in the hospital, 4 months of no walking broken. I did still get my purple cast but it was a pandemic so there was no one around to admire it.
Now that I have you all feeling bad for me, let’s take it one step further. As my body healed my pain became worse. Every x-ray I had after my initial surgery revealed less and less cartilage in my ankle joint. By the time I was a year out from the break and in my last follow-up appointment, I had no visible cartilage left, my ankle joint was bone on bone and I was living my life in chronic pain. My surgeon gave me some options for pain management, none of them making sense for someone in their early 20s. Through the suffering of surgeries, stitches, staples, and a whole lot of physical therapy, the pain that seemed the hardest to grin and bear was the feeling of being forgotten by God. Scripture says so clearly that God is a healer, that He is good and that He sees us in our pain. Literally what?! How could any of these things be true of God if they weren’t showing up anywhere in my story? How am I supposed to believe that God is those things when, after months of praying for healing, my condition only got worse?
When it comes to missed expectations with God I can relate to the disciples in Mark 6: 30-44 when Jesus feeds the five thousand. The passage reads:
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages[a]! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these disciples.
You’ve just arrived home from a long stretch of travel and ministry. Everyone is gathered around, sharing all the Lord did and ready for some serious R&R. Jesus invites you “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place to get some rest”. Ok slay, exactly what we need. As you’re on the way a crowd starts to form and Jesus stops. He begins to teach them. You’re beginning to feel impatient. You need a nap and a meal and some good alone time. You feel yourself getting more and more annoyed as Jesus interacts with these people, but you’re cool, you’re chill, you can wait a sec. Dinner time rolls around, the perfect chance to wrap this event up. So you say to Jesus, “Hey man, we should probs send these people away so they can eat some dinner.” Jesus looks right at you and says, “You feed them.”. Excuse me, what? We thought we were going to rest and now you’re telling us to take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed ALL of these people?
Our passage goes on to describe an incredible miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people and then later on in the chapter the disciples witness Jesus walking on water. The author ends this chapter, chock full of stories of Jesus making incredible things happen out of deep love and compassion for people, saying this about the disciples, “for they did not understand… but their hearts were hard”.
How many times have the disciples, have I, have we, missed the incredible things that God has put in front of us because they didn’t fit our expectations? How many times have we overlooked blessings and gifts because we were too zeroed in on what we thought we should get? Take some time to reflect deeper on this passage using the questions and prompts below.
Questions to Consider
Where do you/have you felt missed by God in your own life?
Spend some time bringing your grief, pain, confusion, or anger to God in prayer. Trust me, He can take it. He’s met me there countless times.
What would it take for you to look outside of your expectations? As you reflect on your hard situations and painful moments, are there ways that you have put God in a box?
Finally, ask God to reveal to you where He is at work. The places where He is moving, restoring, and refining that you’ve been unable to see.
I wish I could wrap my broken leg story up in a nice little bow. I wish I could tell you that I was miraculously healed and ended up becoming an avid marathon runner and just qualified for the Olympics. The reality is that I actually had to have another surgery. It ended my chronic pain but limited my ankle range of motion dramatically. I went through another 4 months of no walking, 2 more months of crutches, and 4 additional months of physical therapy, and within all of that many, many missed expectations between me and God.
When I was a college student my Greek IV staff told me something I will never forget. She said, “God doesn’t waste our pain”, and she’s right. God is in the business of restoration, taking what was once broken and making it new again. I thought, for me, that would look like complete healing from my original break. But in reality, it has looked like an invaluable lesson in how to receive love and support from community. It looked like a newfound heart for people with disabilities and those who experience chronic pain and medical trauma. It looked like knowing how to sit with people in their pain, grief, and disappointment because I know what it’s like to feel those things deeply. And three years out, God is still revealing the ways He’s at work in all of this.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in the process. I still have hard days when I feel mad at God for this outcome. Although I can’t see the full story now, and maybe won’t for a really, really long time, I am confident that what the Lord has in store for me is bigger, better, and more beautiful than anything I could ever dream up for myself. I am confident that if I’m able to faithfully hand over my five loaves and two fish that He can still feed the 5,000.
So what about you? What might be holding you back from handing over your five loaves and two fish?
The audio version of this devotional is available through The Greek & Christian Podcast.