Rest for the Restless

Mark 6:30-34;45-53
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

“Before Barbara Agoglia left her job, she was on the verge of burnout. Aside from logging upward of 50 hours per week, she had a 90-minute commute to and from work and she had to be on call nearly 24-7. The breaking point came when her son started kindergarten and she didn't have time to wait with him at the bus stop.

“‘The hamster-on-the-wheel analogy is the best way to describe how I felt,’ she says. It's a feeling shared by many Americans who know that simply working hard isn't enough anymore. To get ahead, a 70-hour work week is the new standard. What little spare time is left is often divvied up among relationships, kids and sleep.

“Just how bad have things gotten? That's the subject of Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek, a recent study from the Center for Work-Life Policy. The study found that 1.7 million people consider their jobs and their work hours extreme, thanks to globalization, BlackBerries, corporate expectations and their own Type A personalities. No industry is immune. According to the report, extreme jobs can be found throughout the economy — from retail to media to Wall Street. But this extreme and exhausting trend is taking its toll.” (Tara Weiss, Forbes 2-18-07)

And perhaps this frenzied work week is what blinded us to the mess we were making of our economy, until it was too late for an easy repair.

Why are we so frantic about getting ahead? Or not falling behind? We need to learn to relish life not rush through it. We need to take a step back to pray, to listen for the still, small voice of God. But we don’t.

Even in churches we are tempted to overwork – whether we are church employees or church volunteers. Let’s make sure at Peace that we always give people the space to say “no.” While we hope everyone will be meaningfully involved, we also want everyone to feel free to say “enough.” When Jesus was depleted from healing people, teaching people – who often didn’t really get his message, he needed time away. The Lord of the Universe needed time alone to pray and get refreshed. Hear how Jesus moves from work to rest, from ministry to sabbath, from movement to stillness. By the way, when we get to the feeding of the 5000 miracle, I will simply reference it, but not read the whole story because that’s our story for next week. But it is important to remember how Jesus was in and out of busy times. He did not just rush from one exhausting activity to the next, like many of us do. He escaped the rat race. Hear the story:

Read scripture text.

When the disciples reported to Jesus all they had accomplished, he did not slap them on the back and send them back to work, he said, “Come away with me to a quiet place. Come away with me”


Come away with me to a quiet place, apart from the world with its frantic pace, to pray, reflect, and seek God’s grace. Come away with me. Come away.

Come and pray with me on the gentle sea, on top of a hill in Galilee, in gardens like Gethsemane. Come away with me. Come away.

Come today with thoughts of the countless ways that God’s steadfast love blesses all our days, and join with me in silent praise. Come away with me. Come away.

Come and say, in words whispered from your soul, the feelings and actions you can’t control. Your spirit needs to be made whole. Come away with me. Come away.

Come away with me to a quiet place, to God’s loving arms waiting to embrace all those who come in hope of grace. Come away with me. Come away.

How many of us have taken time this week to just sit. Not sit and think. Not sit with your calendar. Not sit and work out some issue. Just sit, and breathe in God’s care. The trouble with prayer and meditation is that we expect results immediately, if not sooner. We approach meditation with the same feverish task mode that is the busy side of life, rather than recognizing that prayer is a wholly different exercise. Thinking that we should feel exceptionally spiritually refreshed the first several times we commit ourselves to prayer and mediation like someone stepping into a swimming pool for their first week of training and expecting to swim like Michael Phelps.

Studies on the brain have shown that those who have meditated or prayed regularly with exceptional discipline are 90% better at focusing on their meditation and actually calming the stress in their minds. Their amygdala and right prefrontal area which register negative emotions settle down. Those who are relatively unpracticed are not very good at this calming exercise. So we too quickly give up the training, thinking that we are just not spiritual enough for such a practice.

And we return to the vicious cycle of desperately trying to fulfill all the obligations that press upon us. We juggle family and work responsibilities. We volunteer at church and in the community. We move between phone messages and computer messages and then collapse in front of the television to be inundated with more messages – most of them telling us how we can improve some aspect of our life, if we would do this or take that.

And we are breeding busyness in our over-scheduled children with their teams and lessons and piles of homework. I doubt there were many high schoolers a generation ago who were stressed out over homework, but now all the college bound are pressured into competitive academics. I took one AP course in high school. Catherine took eight of them. Many children do not know how to handle a free day, how to sit quietly with a book and not be entertained every minute.

But God gave us a rhythm for life, a gift in the Sabbath. Six days you shall labor and on the seventh day, stop. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” St. Augustine said. Sabbath is the privilege of resting in the arms of God.

There was a family, a mother, father and five children, one of whom was a little girl born with brain-damage. She could not sit up and was unable to speak. She died before reaching adolescence. She spent her entire life lying in bed in the sunniest room of the house. Several times during the day one or the other member of the family would go up to the girl’s room and keep her company. When she died many people said it was a blessing. But the family mourned for a long time. Someone asked the mother, “Why does the death of this child who has never spoken or moved among you make you all feel so deeply sad?” “You don’t understand,” was the answer. “Whenever one of us was sad or happy, joyful or depressed, we would go to her room and laugh or cry or just put our head on the pillow next to hers. The room was always quiet. When we left we would feel restored.” “But she could not even speak.” “That’s right,” her mother answered, “she could not even speak.”

This little girl whom some would say had a useless life, was a presence where her parents, her brothers and sisters, found Sabbath rest and felt restored.

Hear these quotes from Wayne Muller’s book on the Sabbath:

Sabbath time is time off the wheel, time when we take our hand from the plow and let God and the earth care for things, while we drink, if only for a few moments, from the fountain of rest and delight…honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us. pg 8

Sabbath time is not spiritually superior to our work. The practice is rather a balance point at which, having rested, we do our work with greater ease and joy, and bring healing and delight to our endeavors. pg 8

Sabbath time can become our refuge. During the Sabbath we set aside a sanctuary in time, disconnect from the frenzy of consumption and accomplishment, and consecrate our day as an offering for healing all beings. pg10

Jesus, for whom anything was possible, did not offer "seven secret coping strategies" to get work done faster, or "nine spiritual stress management techniques" to enhance effectiveness. Instead he offered the simple practice of rest as a natural, nourishing, and essential companion to our work. Learn from me, he said, and you will find rest for your souls. For Jesus when the moment for rest had come, the time for healing (others) was over. He would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray. pg 24

Richard Foster, in chapter 5 of Freedom of Simplicity, speaks of living out of the Divine Center. He distinguishes between our invitation to let God into our lives, a crucial step, and our willingness to enter into God, a deeper communion, which puts God at the focal point, at the center. When God comes into us, we still maintain autonomy. But when we delve into God, we are inviting God to take control. We are resting in the arms of God, entrusting all our worries to God. This is the place of communion with God that can only be learned through the regular, disciplined practice of sabbath and prayer and simplicity of life.

Foster tells the story of Frank Laubach, who devoted his life to practicing the presence of God. Every day in his journal, he would mark down the percentage of time he figured he had been conscious of God’s presence. What a difference it would make if we were more conscious every hour of every day. I admire the Muslim practice of praying five times/day. I’d like to think I’m praying without ceasing as I go through the day, but truthfully, there are hours when I am living an autonomous life, unaware of the Holy Spirit communicating with me. How many blessings am I ignoring? How many moments of guidance do I miss? How much peace do I forfeit, all because of a lack of consciousness about the presence of God.

Here’s what I’m going to try this week and I invite you to come away with me and do it too. I plan to pray on the hour, every waking hour for just a minute or two. And I plan to write in a journal just two or three sentences each night describing my awareness of God that day. I plan this afternoon to take the phone off the hook, close my computer and sleep for an hour or two, and then wake up and relax with my family. I will actively seek to accomplish nothing from lunch time Sunday to lunchtime Monday. To simply be and trust that God will bless the discipline of sabbath rest, to bask in the peaceful wholeness of God’s love, and to listen and wait for God to be more fully revealed to me.