ver the years I have read a lot about different saints. One thing they all had in common was their lack of rest. Even Pope John Paul ll when told that he really needed to slow down and rest, responded in a testy tone, “I have eternity to rest!” Well, it is true that we have eternity to rest but leaving ALL of our resting time to eternity is something I would rather not do. I’m sure some of you may feel the same way.
In Mark’s gospel this morning, the disciples have just returned from their journey to heal the sick and proclaim the Good News. If you remember, just a couple of weeks ago, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two and told them to pack light! They did and now they’re back and Jesus notices something. They are tired, coming and going in all directions and have not had any time to have leisure and eat.
Sound familiar? Our overscheduled lives today are busier than ever. For a culture that has more ways (technological or otherwise) to manage or save time, we simply don’t!! We have every device known to man to help with work schedules, after work schedules, meeting schedules, physical activities for the kids, physical activities for adults, extra credit courses and God knows what else.
And can’t our choice of leisure time be even more work? There are so many electronic devices we use that some of us feel we need to keep up with. Has anyone liked my FB posts in the past 15 minutes? Has anyone emailed me about the weekend? Twitter, Buzzfeed, Instagram, Netflix, and on and on and on. Sometimes I think that we are afraid of unfilled time. We are so afraid of missing something that we are constantly trying to keep up. And what might we miss—our friends inane cat video?
We can be like the disciples after returning from their journey—running in different directions, hungry, tired, and frazzled. I may be getting things done but there is always a question that lingers….Am I busy because I really need to get these things in front of me done, or is it because I am restless when not faced with responsibility? I see it with clergy but I see it a lot with everyone. People in our churches who are deeply involved in immigration, food pantries, children’s programs, helping the abused, the poor and the homeless. I have seen what were once very meaningful ministries become a heavy burden because the growth has given more work to the same number of people and so there is little to no break.
When I was a young, single mother I had a job as a Director of a sheltered workshop. My daughter was about 7 at the time. In my work I supervised a lot of people and managed three programs. That wasn’t enough; on Saturdays I volunteered to spend time with a disabled woman at her home, taking her out to eat and doing different activities. I don’t know what I was thinking in doing that because I should have been spending that time with my daughter. The time with her was more important and I can’t get that time back. Not only that but there was little time to rest which made for a more stressful life.
When a ministry or even added activities stop being meaningful and become heavy burdens, one of the things a lot of us do not do is to STOP!! And, we must stop if we are to let rest come in. Not the kind of rest that puts us on the couch, totally exhausted and napping. Of course we need that. I’m talking about the Jesus kind of rest. Jesus faced the needs of the marginalized, the ill and broken more than any other person I have read about. As is shown in this morning’s gospel, he was pursued by throngs of people most of the time. Not only because of the healing he gave them but the compassion and love he showed them. And yet he took time away to pray and to rest. This was not a dysfunctional man. He drew boundaries and left the crowds to go up to a mountain or to go a ‘deserted place’ to anchor himself again. By getting in the boat and going to a deserted place he was showing his disciples how to stop and rest. I believe he also encouraged the disciples to talk among themselves and with him about their experiences. Nadia Bolz-Weber (a Lutheran Minister) has said, “I think Jesus told his disciples to Come away with him and rest and eat—not as a pit stop to fill them up to get them back out there as quick as possible—but so that they might experience themselves as just as hungry, broken and tired as those he sent them to serve.”
Going to a quiet place and taking rest helps us to pause and pay attention to our hearts. In a quiet place, we can have a sense of ourselves again. No noise besides our noise and the wind, no presence besides our presence and God’s presence, no company but the surroundings.
Here, we recover our hearts back again from our cellphones, our rushed lives. A quiet place is not a thing in itself but a corridor that functions as a way in and out of our constant work for ministry. What I’m talking about takes time, time alone—time to empty our minds and just listen, to take in what we do, how we do it, how we learn from others and others from us.
This is a practice that requires us to stop and taker personal inventory. Taking even a short amount of time in a quiet space is something we all need in our world of constant movement. And, this quiet space does not have to be in a desert on a remote beach somewhere, or in the woods, although those are good choices. Being alone on a walk or in our own back yard gives us a chance to pay attention to our hearts, to understand just what we give to the world and why. That is a way of being with God. God looking at us and, we looking right back at God.
So Summer is far from over. There is still warm sun, cool breezes and even refreshing rain. All of these natural, God-given elements invite us in to experience the rest we need before diving into Fall, into another busy year. Let’s all remember that during the upcoming year, Jesus calls us to have compassion for ourselves and to continue to do the strong actions of ministry.