These two words are needed in almost every bad situation. We need to find comfort and reassurance, but also to move on and not wallow in sadness. We need to have the wider perspective - a vision of where we're going - but not lose the tenderness that sustains the steps forward.
Jesus' example following the beheading of his friend John the Baptist speaks through the ages. How powerful it must have been for Jesus to meet John and have him so readily acknowledge Jesus' mission as the promised Messiah. His baptism of Jesus was the precursor of Jesus' hearing God's proclamation of sonship - the relationship he was to help others understand for themselves. How perplexing it must have been when, later on, John sent his disciples to Jesus, questioning who Jesus was. There is nothing in the Bible that suggests Jesus got to talk to John after that, and the next we read of John, he is brutally beheaded.
Afterward, the Bible says that Jesus went by ship to a "desert place apart." Perhaps this was an essential time for him to commune with his Father, the real power of the universe that would give him the strength to press on with his lifework. One trusts that Jesus found his consolation quickly, because the people immediately followed him. Jesus quickly resumes his work, loving and healing them. The account in Matthew gives the impression that his disciples were concerned for Jesus and wanted the people to go away, but Jesus kept caring for them, even multiplying the loaves and fishes so they had enough to eat (see Matt. 14:1-21).
How is it possible to love so generously - to move beyond the devastation, the loneliness and despair? Jesus' life proved over and over again that he wasn't the source of the love he lived. As he said: "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth" (John 5:19, 20). God is the origin of love, and this infinite Love supports us with everything we need in order to share that love with others.
Human love goes only so far, and that's why, in times of tragedy, war, and loss, it feels like we're bereft of what we need. But glimpsing the constancy of the God who is infinite Love shows us that love isn't a feeling; it's a law. As we feel this love more deeply, instead of picking and choosing when we're going to help someone, we see that the freedom to love is even more natural than breathing, blinking, or swallowing.
As the children of God, we are designed to reflect God's love without measure or resistance. When our freedom to love feels constrained, we have the same privilege that Jesus had to stop and remember that God was the only source of life, the only source of love. As we acknowledge the infinite Love whereby we have been loved, we keep moving to more generous points of view that open up new opportunities to serve and support and heal. And, as we yield to the opportunities, we feel served - supported and healed.
I remember the rock-bottom self-examination I did when my husband passed on. Should I stay in my ministry in light of my own emotional needs and my young children? The morning I was making the funeral arrangements, a woman called for help through prayer to heal the problems she was having with her pregnancy. There was a threat to the baby because of the mother's blood type. It was significant to me that God would give me such a specific opportunity to defend in prayer the evidence of life's continuity. I came to see that regardless of the particular details of fear and devastation any one of us suffers, God continues to be the infinite Love that reassures and inspires, strengthens and leads.
In the 12 years since then, my friend's daughter has prospered, and so have my children and I. The people I meet in my ministry are such evidence of God's goodness that I could only feel blessed and fortified. On the hard days, I expect God to make His love known in ways that move me out of weakness and show me the courage to open my heart again, to understand the breadth of His love.
"... freely ye have received, freely give," was the theme of Jesus' ministry (Matt 10:8). It is a command full of reassurance and vision. We are only being asked to give what we have been given.