Henry David Thoreau wrote that “Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried.”
As a people, Americans are always in a hurry. We’re always doing at least two things at once. The great theologian Henry Nouwen wrote that “We experience our days as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep…In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we also have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligation.”
I’ll admit here that I am guilty of that last emotion – even when all is done, when nothing more of any use could be done on any given day, I still manage to check my lists at least one more time. I have to remind myself, as we all need reminding, that being in a hurry, being busy for no good reason, is contrary not only to a healthy life, but to the Christian life.
St. Mark reminds us today that even Jesus and the disciples were prone to over-extension. Jesus tells His disciples to “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
What a good problem to have. Imagine a world in which thirteen of us had to be here day and night, just to satisfy throngs of people who come here seeking the Lord, seeking to be in His presence, to hear God’s word, to be nourished by what the Church has to offer. We would be busy; we would always be in a hurry, but at least it would be for good reason. And, inevitably, we would have to figure out a way to get some rest.
Jesus’ plan was to gather up the disciples, get in a boat, and go off to a “lonely place.” Given their need for rest and a meal, chances are they were heading toward some tiny village fairly nearby where they could get these things. In ancient Palestine, such a little village qualified as a ‘lonely place’, a place to hide out for a day or two and recharge.
As the story goes, they never got there, but ended up in a very lonely place. Mark went out of the way to include the detail that there was ‘much green grass’ there, so picture a meadow by the side of a waterway, a pleasant lonely place.
They ended up there because they were chased down by the very crowds from which they were attempting to take their leave. They must have felt hunted. Being exhausted and hungry, we can imagine they felt not a small amount of frustration, maybe even bitterness, toward the crowds.
This is the point of the story at which I always feel like half a man. When I put myself into the story, as if I was one of the disciples, I can only imagine being cranky. I get a sense of claustrophobia, of defeat; I figure if I was there, I would probably just sit down in the boat and pretend I was somewhere else. And then I don’t know what I’d do if Jesus did the very thing He did: He had compassion for the crowds – He likened them to sheep without a shepherd – and He kept on working.
Jesus did, famously, take breaks. Sabbaths, really, time away to rest, to pray, maybe to play. He once fell dead asleep in a boat during a raging storm. His Father rested after the sixth day of creation, if not for Himself than for the benefit of His chief creation.
If they took rest, so should we. Perhaps easier said than done. But remember, we don’t burn out doing the right things, we burn out because of what we don’t do. We don’t organize, prioritize, and stay ahead. We don’t let our minds and souls rest in daily worship and prayer. We don’t, as a society, play enough. Instead, we’re in a hurry, guilty as charged. I’ll take a moment here to say that I know lots of parents of young children, and I don’t know how they do it – you’re allowed to hurry.
John Wesley once wrote “Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry.” I encourage you (and myself) to be more like Wesley: make haste to do the will of God, to be about Christ’s work in you and in the world. As a spiritual discipline, find some rest for your body and your soul. Jesus would approve.