Getting Away From it All
Recently my wife and I have had a number of responsibilities pile up on us. We seem to be rushing from one activity to another until late in the evening. When we finally get a chance to slow down it takes us a while before we can unwind enough to go to bed. As a result, on a recent weekend, we did nothing. Except for church on Sunday we didn’t leave the house from Friday night to Monday morning. We have an idea of how Jesus and his disciples must have felt.
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus sent his disciples out to practice what he had been teaching them. Mark doesn’t tell us how long they were gone, but when they returned they must have been both exhausted and exhilarated. We can see them talking to Jesus, probably all at once, telling him of their successes, their failures, the wonderful things they had seen and experienced, all while their eyes were half shut because they were falling asleep.
Jesus recognized the symptoms. Hadn’t he sometimes become exhausted while being about his Father’s business? Hadn’t he needed to get off by himself and pray, renewing his energy through contact with the One who sent him? So Jesus suggested a little R&R. “Come away by yourselves,” he said, “to a desolate place and rest a while.”
We must not take this word desolate too seriously. When we use the word we usually mean something devoid of any beauty, a bare landscape with nothing to recommend it as a vacation spot—like the badlands in the Dakotas, perhaps. I believe Mark is indicating a place with no distractions—no fast food restaurants, no movie theatres, no amusement parks. This is a place where they can be alone together and decompress while Jesus debriefs them.
We know it didn’t work out that way. When they got into the boat and headed for their private retreat, people saw them and took off on foot, knowing the shortcuts that would get them there first. By the time the boat pulled in to shore a crowd of over five thousand had gathered, waiting to be fed. Jesus had no choice but to feed them—spiritually as well as physically. As Mark tells us, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
We don’t know when the disciples got time to relax. We do know Jesus spent much of that night praying alone, recharging his spiritual batteries, before walking across the water to them. We can be sure that at some point they must have had time to refresh themselves, to recoup their energy. No one can go on forever without some down time. As my wife and I spent last weekend doing much of nothing, so the disciples had to eventually find time to be alone with Jesus.
So often we allow ourselves to overwork. We’re tired—we know it. We’re running on empty—we know it. Our batteries desperately need recharging—we know it. Still, we push on. People need us. There’s work to be done. There are projects that must be completed; messes to be tidied up; meals to be cooked; children to be cared for. How can we possibly take time off? But Jesus says to us, “Come away by yourselves to a quiet place and rest a while.”
If we don’t heed Jesus’ words we might run out of steam at the moment we’re needed most. When our bodies and our spirits crave rest we owe it to those who are dependent on us, to all the work that must be done (and work will always need to be done!), and to all the projects that need to be completed, to gather our strength for what lies ahead.
“Come away,” Jesus says. “Take some time off to be alone with me. Let me feed you. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on in your life. Tell me what you need. Decompress and let me debrief you for a while. It will be good for your body—and your soul.”