“The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure time even to eat.” (Mark 6:30-31)
In our highly stressed, busy society it is important that we maintain this picture of Jesus in our minds. He knew when it was time to withdraw to seek a new spiritual landscape and to correct his perspective. There were many occasions where he needed to turn his back on harsh reality and seek rest. Flight might have been prudent, but he chose prayerful withdrawal for replenishment and re-creation. Time and time again, he withdrew from his teaching, his healing and his preaching. He left behind those who wanted to share a meal with him, those who wanted to touch him and those who just wanted to put their hand on the hem of his robes.
Most of us are tightly scheduled burdened with all manner of obligations so that the idea of walking away, simply withdrawing from the demands of the alleged “real” world seems almost impossible. Jesus shows us a rhythm of going out and coming back, of departure and return almost like the regular life giving rhythm of breathing.
Did Jesus shirk his responsibilities? Was he chastised for dereliction of duty? In his gospel, Mark tells of how at sundown, all who were sick or were possessed with demons were brought to his door. He cured many of the sick, and then in the morning while it was still dark, he got up, went to a deserted place and there he prayed. The disciples then have to hunt him down and tell him everyone is looking for him. Instead of returning to the town, he tells his disciples “Let us move on to a neighbouring town.” We might well ask what gave Jesus the right to walk away from all those people who needed him. He did not do this out of indifference or being hard hearted, but he did it out of the need to renew, refresh and redirect himself.
For us to go away by ourselves to rest and escape the “everyday” is not an exercise in selfishness. It is however, a practice of selfcare that is highly beneficial for our well-being. How many times do we protest; I don’t have time; I’m too busy; I’ve got a deadline to meet. These should not be used as excuses to prevent self healing because they will always be there. They are a part of our life. Whether we go away for a short time, or long time everything will still be there waiting for us when we come back.
Just like Jesus, our need to refresh and renew is always placed squarely in the midst of life’s demands and “real life” will be waiting our return. Our retreat away is a limited time of engagement from the world’s concerns to make possible a deeper engagement with God and our own best self.
A retreat is time away from our workaday surroundings. We might picture an ancient monastery or place of great natural beauty. We are more attentive to prayerfulness when the environment is filled with reminders to that lead us to prayerfulness. Silence, art, music and worship by a religious community are all things we look for in a retreat. Worship within a religious community can be so nourishing, that prayer soaks into the walls of the chapel and floats in the air. But this type of retreat is not for everyone. We need to learn how to pray, how to be silent and how to let the power of God be absorbed into our very being.
So, just as Jesus did, we need to remove ourselves from everything that surrounds us, walk away, find a quiet place for an hour, a day, a week, or however long we need, to refresh, recreate and nourish our souls. When we come back, everything is still there; we just see it in a different light. The spreadsheet you were working on suddenly falls into place or timetabling our children’s sports schedule suddenly becomes more manageable. Nothing changed while you were away, but when you return you are more able to face each new challenge, as well as the old ones with a renewed spirit.
The next time everything is getting you down and you say, “I’m running away!” then do it. You don’t have to go far, but the journey back will bring new meaning and a renewed energy to you. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Photo