This scripture has haunted me for some time:
"And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." Matthew 15:21-23
There is something wild about a mother's passion when it comes to their child's life. She gladly offers her body for nine full months as a living sacrifice for the child who grows inside her. Each cell formed in the child comes at a cost to the mother. Every calorie consumed offered up for the other. At times, every second of rest laid down for the child growing within her.
When the time comes, the mother walks to the edge of herself and even faces death, all for the possibility that the flesh of her flesh may cry out and take in the breath of life. With the joy of hearing their child cry, the mother must begin to separate herself from the child for the first time. Rarely does the mother desire this type of loss, but she knows with her sacrifice, the child will know life more abundantly.
God's gracious design allows the mother many years of caring intimately for their child. But as the child grows, the mother must face several deaths as she releases her child to the love of God and the world around them.
I feel the depths of the Canaanite mother's pain. I imagine she tried everything to save the flesh of her flesh, yet the child's suffering continued. In suffering's wake, the child and mother became isolated. They alone clung to life. The mother again walks to the edge of herself and faces death on behalf of her child. She pleads for God to intervene and is confronted with silence, apathy, and rejection.
Ron Howard recently directed a movie based on the experiences of twelve young Thai soccer players and their coach. Trapped in a Chang Rai cave due to rising flood waters, they survived by sitting on a high ledge of a cavern for 18 days. As they fought to live, two kilometers of underwater tunnels were between them, and their family camped outside. If that were not enough, the already tiny passageways were caving in. The rescuers faced a task with no ethical solutions. How could a diver bring 13 boys on a treacherous 3-hour underwater journey? Surely all involved would die. It was an impossible situation. The world responded to their collective pain and surrounded them with support. Over 5,000 people came in from around the globe to offer their expertise. Many sacrificed, hoping that just one child would be saved – Thai farmers' offered their harvest, political leaders' offered their careers, and rescue workers their lives. In the end, over 53 million donated dollars helped cover the expenses.
The scripture in Matthew 15:24-28 continues.
"He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly."
The Canaanite mother showed up in this movie embodied as the mother of one of the soccer players. Because she and her son were from Myanmar, she knew she had to beg for the crumbs from the master's table. She pleaded with public officials to save her son even though he was not a Thai citizen. She humbly asked spiritual leaders to bless a set of beads she gave the rescue workers. Then she waited in desperation, knowing her son was isolated, alone, and dying. Like the woman of Matthew 15, her son, the flesh of her flesh, was restored to her alive. It was a beautiful story of humanity acting as the body of Christ. It reminds me of Hosea 11:4 "I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love," It was a glimpse of heaven on earth.
I love that the body of Christ can offer a suffering mother and child God's tender loving touch. But why does it take an unexpected natural disaster to get us moving?
Did you know that a mother loses a child to isolation, loneliness, and apathy every eleven minutes – suicide? That's right, every eleven minutes. That means someone will have died, isolated and alone, by the time you finish reading this post. Did you know during those 18 days in 2018, nearly 2,400 people died by suicide?
If that fact is not weighty enough, let's expand our understanding of the suffering related to mental health conditions, the leading cause of suicide. In 2020. an estimated 52.9 million people were diagnosed with a mental health condition in the US alone. In that same year, 45,979 people died by suicide. That is less than 1% of all individuals with a diagnosis. Hold that in your heart and mind. That means 52.9 million people and all of their loved ones are fighting daily and begging for crumbs from the master's table. A pleading, often met with silence, apathy, and rejection.
Last week I attended a conference called Pathways to Hope. It is put on by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Faithnet. This is the arm of NAMI that reaches out to faith communities and provides them with tools to care for those living with a mental health condition and their loved ones. The conference had all the tools one could need to support one of the 52.9 million of our suffering neighbors. Yet more than half the seats in the auditorium were empty. This was not for lack of promotion or poor planning. It was simply because faith communities have fallen asleep to the impossible wave of suffering we call mental illness and its lack of "good "solutions. Looking at the begging mother as a nuisance is easier than entering into her pain with cords of human kindness.
So if you have read this far, you may wonder, "what is your point, Tamara." My point is not to shame anyone but to invite you to be a part of the 5000 people – those willing to sacrifice in the hopes of saving just one person. We mothers are exhausted. We need your help knocking on doors and holding hope. We mothers know the sacrifice your families will have to make on behalf of the flesh of our flesh. You will sacrifice provision, time, and even your lives.
You don't have to do it alone. Go to your church or faith leaders and beg them on behalf of all mothers to take action. Get involved and offer real change (check out Bridges to Care). Or maybe take a class so you can learn to talk to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. (consider Mental Health First Aid).
I ask you not to be silent, apathetic, or rejecting anymore, body of Christ, turn to us, really see us, touch us and offer your healing. We will take your crumbs though we need more to truly live.