Sitting on a Sidewalk

Friday: a reflection on Easter

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Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:11 

She ran out of the gym, screaming and crying. Not having time to back track to the gym to find out what had happened immediately, I followed her. She kept running down the hallway, turned outside, before plopping down with her back against the brick wall and her bottom on the sidewalk. Her arms wrapped her legs, pulling her knees close to her face. Her shoulders shook as she tried to bury the sounds of her crying.

I sat in front of her, repeating the same calm things to her over and over. I know she probably wasn’t listening, but I hoped the sound of a gentle voice could bring her back.

“My friend, you’re safe. You’re outside. Ms. Brianna is with you. We’re safe. You don’t have to be scared. I’ve got you. I’m not leaving. Just breath. Breath in, and breath out. Remember how much fun we had today? We hunted for Easter eggs, did lots of star jumps, made beautiful masks. And guess what? We get to take lots of candy home today too.”

After several minutes of saying these things over and over, I watched her shoulders softened. Her yelling ended. And after a few more moments, her head raised. My eyes were the first thing she saw when her eyes opened to the world again. She looked at me for barely a second before shifting her eyes to the scene of cars, trees, and people walking behind us.

“My friend, do you want to hold my hand?” I asked. Which might sound really creepy, but this kind of language speaks to a 2nd grader. Some kids need a hand to hold to feel connected, loved, protected. But it’s not my right to be that person for them. I ask for permission every time.

She nodded and reached for my hands. As we sat on that sidewalk, I repeated the truths over to her again. I hoped she heard both my words and tone this time.

“My friend, do you want to wait for your class on the bus?” I asked. Her tears had dried, but her voice remained silent. I knew she wasn’t in a place to rejoin her laughing classmates in the gym.

Her nod was so subtle, I could have missed it if I wasn’t fully present with her.

“Okay. Let’s go get a teacher so you’re not alone,” I told her.

I helped her up, still hand in hand, and we took the short walk down the sidewalk, turned the corner to get through the door, and stopped at the gym door. My arm was outstretched behind me, as her hand held onto mine. With my other hand, I opened the door. My head followed my other arm, looking and reaching into the gym, motioning for an adult to step out.

She got on the bus, waited in quiet for just a couple minutes as the rest of our after-school kids packed up and lined up.

This happened yesterday, on a Thursday.

Today is Friday. Good Friday, actually. And I have been asking the Lord all day why this scene continues to play in my mind.

Good Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ death. On a random Thursday a couple thousand years later I helped a crying African girl. Why does it matter?

It matters because Jesus gave His life for moments like this.

My imagination stretches back to the timing of His life on earth. I picture His calloused and dirt-stained feet walking rough roads. I see the gentleness in His eyes when He comes to the sick. The lowly. The poor. The hungry. The dead. I feel the gaze of His eyes on them, looking at them with love and pity, and feeling the weight of sin in this world.

And His voice – when I hear the sound of His voice calling out, I hear love and hope. I hear a voice unafraid to speak the truth to a generation whose ears are deafened by lies. The truth was almost unrecognizable. But even when we were nearly incapable of differentiating a true voice from a false one, He spoke over us.

I wonder if there were times when He spoke, knowing those He spoke to weren’t listening, in hopes that even the tone of His voice would be enough to bring someone back to a place where they could understand His words.

When every second of the day drug on with inescapable sadness, when we were called unimportant or unworthy, when our souls longed for something we couldn’t quite name yet, He walked with us.

What’s even more mind-blowing is that even when I was the one name-calling, hurting, kicking, hating, and doing anything I pleased without regard for how much it could hurt another living being – He walked with me then. Even then too.

He proved Himself to be the One we’d been waiting for to save us from ourselves. And then, here’s the crazy thing, we rejected Him for it. Rejected is a mild way to put it.

We hated Him.

When He offered us everything we’d ever wanted – love, joy, peace, forgiveness, community, belonging – we spit at Him. We called Him a liar and a lunatic. We mocked Him for even trying. And then we relentlessly shouted crucify!

When we hated His guts, and He full well knew we’d put His earthly body to death, He came. Maybe the only thing we’ve ever remained true to is the inclination to hate first.

We tried with everything within us to remove His message far from us. We ignored. We argued. We ran. We lashed out in anger. We shot back sarcastic comments. But still, He came to us in humility, knowing His message was honest and real. It answered a lot of questions, and held true to hopes and prophecies of the past.

He knew that that the words of his message, the tone of his voice, the movements of his actions, the look in eyes were all held together with integrity. He loved us enough to tell us the truth. There wasn’t an inkling of doubt or façade in His demeanor.

All He ever wanted to do was know us, and all we wanted was to kill Him.

And we did. Given the choice to believe or hand Him over, we gave Him up. The only One who ever really loved us, saw us, cared for us, protected us, and knew us the deepest was the One we couldn’t stand.

He believed in what He proclaimed so deeply, that He was willing to die for it. Not just willing. Even desiring. Not desiring to endure that suffering, but desiring to do whatever it took to prove He was the real deal to us.

In the Bible, it talks about Jesus being handed over like a silent sheep. When we sought to disprove Him, he exemplified His message in peace. He was led to a brutal, excruciating death only reserved for the vilest of people. But He didn’t fight it. Everything in His existence led up to this day. He took it as graciously as the dull-teethed, soft haired animal that only ever harmed blades of grass.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.

Isaiah 53:11 NLT

So why am I thinking so much about my friend today?

No one is exempt from the hurt of this world. That’s the truest thing about thing my 8-year-old friend and me: she was hurting because something was taken from her, I was hurting watching her hurt. Sin robbed this moment, and Jesus just wanted to be with us. I can hear my friend asking in her native tongue, unspoken and kept in her mind:

Why did that person want to hurt me? Why did she hit me? Why did she take that soccer ball away from me? Why did she yell? Why did she make me feel small? Why didn’t she care about my feelings? Why did I feel alone? Why do we do this?

And in my heart, the one that remembers the death of Jesus and the anguish He feels for my friend too, I think:

We don’t know how else to live. Hurting others is what we’re best at. And, Lord, as I sit with this precious child – what can I say? What can I do? But to attempt to speak and love with the same gentleness and kindness as You?

Sin has battered us terribly, and we can’t restore ourselves on our own. Even in my best intentions, when I come to sit with a friend, I am not a Savior. Jesus Christ – the man who lived and died for us – is the only One capable of making us complete.

Jesus knew that from the beginning. That’s why He was content to step onto this earth, with all its cracks and faults, and to grit His teeth under our cruelty for Him. He didn’t only see that Good Friday so long ago. He was looking back and looking ahead.

As the minutes passed and the blood flowed down the wood, as His final breath on earth drew nearer, I have no doubt He thought of my friend and me. Just two girls sitting on a sidewalk, fighting tears and sadness at the hand of sin, thousands of years later. And He stayed to the finish.

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