Resting isn’t easy. In 1845, Henry David Thoreau became exasperated with trying to live simply in the world. His world was not too different from our own. Concord was busy. That part of New England was awash in political polarization and strong opinions. Thoreau, himself, was strongly opposed to slavery and our country's involvement in a war on the Mexican border. He was willing to go to jail rather than to pay taxes that supported the things he hated. Further, he was unhappy with his job at the family’s pencil factory (an odd start for someone who went on to become a famous writer). One friend said to him, "Go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. I see… no other hope for you."
But coming away isn’t easy. Jesus discovered that was true, even in the much simpler first century. In Mark chapter 6, beginning in verse 31, Jesus spends about a page and a half trying to find a quiet space where he can just simply rest with his disciples. In the previous chapter, he had assigned them the task of traveling to distant villages and practicing the compassion that they had seen in him. They returned rejoicing. Wonderful things happened when they showed people the love of Jesus. But Jesus knew that being compassionate can be exhausting. Being the caregiver of a loved one or the mother of a toddler can also be exhausting. He knew that was the disciples really needed was a place to get away. Most of us are in desperate need of the same thing.
Henry David Thoreau had a friend named Ralph Waldo Emerson who happened to own a plot of ground that bordered a lake called Walden’s Pond. Emerson offered it as a retreat to his young friend. Thoreau later wrote a book to explain why this coming away had such a big influence on his life. The following has been like scripture to me:
The mass of [people] live lives of quiet desperation…
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…
Thoreau was lucky to have friends like Emerson. Jesus was not. Jesus tried unsuccessfully to find a place where he and his disciples could have an extended retreat. Even the wind and waves disturbed the evening boat ride he had planned for them. However, Jesus remained intentional about working sabbath and retreat time into their schedule. He knew from experience both the emotional and physical frailty of our human condition. He never gave them a lesson on how to handle more stress. Instead, he invited them to come away with him. Three takeaways:
1)Our need for regular rest (daily quiet time, weekly sabbath, monthly “me-time,” and yearly vacations) is critical. No one will give it to us. We must fight for it.
2)Both flexibility and routine are important when we are planning our rest times. We must adapt to emergencies. When the crisis is over, we return to our routine.
3)Jesus is our teacher, guide, and friend in this. There is no religious imperative that supersedes our need for rest. The most neglected line of the Ten Commandments (and perhaps the whole Bible) is, “Six days you shall labor and on the seventh, you shall rest.”
PS: I just came back from a couple of days at Olmsted Manor, my favorite place in Western PA for a personal retreat. See what it offers at https://www.olmstedmanor.org