In the Gospel reading in Mark 6, the word that pops out and resonates for me, is the word “rest.”
Mark 6: 31: “[Jesus] said to them [the Apostles], “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while….”
Rest. What a wonderful concept. Am I right?
And yet, as we all know, true rest is often elusive, hard to find, for many people, many who seek true rest.
In Syria, South Sudan and Iraq today, millions of migrants are displaced from the comforts of their familiar homes, and desperately seek rest and refuge as they flee the bombs and destruction, the murdering and wounding.
Here in North America, many seek that rest from constantly striving to prove oneself worthy, constantly seeking affirmation and acceptance from a boss, or parent, or spouse – because one already is good enough; one already is wondrously made (as the Psalmist says); one already is beloved, precious and of inestimable value….
… and not because of anything one does or accomplishes or achieves, but simply because of who one is.
To seek rest from that incessant, exhausting, striving.
Many seek that true rest from the rat race, from constantly working and striving to “keep up with the Jones” and accumulate as much stuff and status for oneself as possible.
True rest is hard to find, elusive, in our world, our society.
Truth be told, that’s partly our own doing.
Human nature being what it is, we are snared in patterns of jealousy, always wanting more and more, always striving to reach beyond who we were created to be, continually obsessing with what we do not have, instead of being grateful for what we do have.
We are rest – less.
We can see this dynamic already play in the first two pages of the bible, in Genesis 2, in the Garden of Eden, that Paradise that God prepares for Adam and Eve.
God already has given – generously and abundantly – to Adam and Eve a beautiful garden to live in, with an abundance of trees and good fruit.
They have everything they need and more. All of it given by God.
But what do they do, but obsess over that one tree from which they could not take any fruit. One tree, that they could not have.
Never mind all the other numerous, fruit-laden trees surrounding them and always available to them in the garden.
It’s that one tree, they cannot have, over which they obsess.
What’s that one thing in each of our own lives?
It’s different for everyone, but what’s the same is that everyone has that hole, that gap, that one thing just out of reach that we cannot have.
Maybe it’s a dream that has always been just out of reach.
Maybe it’s a job, or occupation, a lifestyle, that has had to be let go of because of other choices made in life.
Maybe that hole is loneliness, a loneliness caused by the death of a loved one, or the result of your occupational lifestyle, or a broken relationship.
Each one of us has that hole, that one thing we lack, and cannot have.
But, human nature being what it is, we tend constantly, frantically to strive to get that one thing, to fill that hole … not realizing that our efforts never truly accomplish what we think they will.
Remember, that after Adam and Eve reached out and took that fruit from the one tree they could not have, they certainly weren’t better for it. In fact, their situation got worse.
God banishes them from the Paradise that they once had.
I was talking recently to my mother on the phone.
She was telling me about a book she had been reading by Harvard teacher and journalist David Brooks called The Road to Character.
In it, Brooks addresses what he calls the “Culture of the Big Me” – the selfish, me-focussed and self-aggrandizing aspects of our modern North American society.
In this “Culture of the Big Me”, we focus too much on what he calls “resume virtues” (acquiring wealth, fame, status ) instead of “eulogy virtues” – such as kindness, honesty, bravery, faithfulness and the kind of relationships we have formed.
“Eulogy virtues” are far more important, enduring and memorable and worthy of our efforts and energy than “resume virtues.”
We need rest.
Rest from the frenetic rat race of modern, self-focussed consumer society.
Rest in God’s steadfast and unchanging love for us.
Because true rest, naturally and automatically leads to an other-centred, outward focus –
… appreciating and having gratitude for the beauty, abundance, and goodness of the world God made.
… seeing others – no matter how different they may be from us – as beloved, precious and good creations of a loving God.
… leading to a self-confidence in being compassionate, forgiving, and caring with others where there is need.
But not at the expense of our own well-being, or our own health and wellness.
Because we can never be of any good to anyone, if we ourselves are not healthy and rested.
Notice in the Gospel text today, that after Jesus invites his disciples away to rest, immediately as they are coming on shore, there is a crowd waiting for them, waiting to be healed, to be helped.
It seems that the disciples can’t even get away for a few moments rest!
But notice here what Jesus does not say to his disciples.
He doesn’t say:
“Well guys, too bad for you!”
“No rest for you!”
“Come on, chop-chop, let’s go! Let’s get back to work!”
“Give me some help in healing all these people!”
He doesn’t say any of that, never pushing his disciples to do more.
If anyone got back to work, it was Jesus, not the disciples. The biblical text says that Jesus had compassion, and began to heal the ill once again.
It’s Jesus who saves, who heals, who transforms us.
Are we Jesus, or are we disciples?
Of course, we’re disciples – followers of Jesus – but I think we sometimes act as though we are, or should be, Jesus. But we’re not.
As creatures of God, with human limitations, we need our rest, and we would do well to take the initiative to enter that deep rest God calls us to.
But it’s a rest that not only rejuvenates us on a personal level, but also prepares us best to follow the call of God into the world and engagement with others in compassionate and forgiving ways.
So in the upcoming week, what are you going to do to seek that true rest?
Plunk down in front of the TV, tablet or smartphone?
Or, choose instead to take time to go for a walk outside, with a friend or your spouse, or to play a card or board game with your child, or a neighbour …..in order to nurture those “eulogy virtues.”
Blessings on you this week, as we go forward taking Jesus up on his invitation to truly, deeply, rest; and to see how that leads to abundant, generous, compassionate life.