I start most of my weekdays with an early morning hour of writing at a Panera bakery. I order English breakfast tea and a bagel, fire up my laptop, and plug in the ear buds of my iPhone to listen to Mozart’s Requiem or Santana’s Oye Como Va as I write. Last week as I was pulling into the Panera parking lot, I discovered to my dismay that I had forgotten to recharge my iPhone and the “low battery” symbol was blinking. Then as I reached to turn off the car engine, the low fuel warning light suddenly flashed on my dashboard. When I slid into my booth at Panera and started the computer, I found out that my laptop had not been recharged and it only had about fifteen minutes of life left.
I shook my head in amazement. Empty cell phone. Empty gas tank. Empty computer battery. I was beginning to discern a pattern here. What does it mean that nearly every tool I use to do my work was short of energy, low on fuel, running on empty, about to give out? Hmmm…
During the previous ten days, I had preached or taught eleven times, traveled to two conferences, attended half a dozen meetings, and presided over four days of sessions with 1,600 people. Maybe all the gadgets were trying to tell me something. Maybe my energy was depleted for a reason.
The gospels highlight Jesus’ constant forward motion. Mark overuses the word “immediately” to describe the constant action and engagement and activity of Jesus as he moves from place to place teaching, preaching, healing, talking, serving. The gospel writers also preserve abundant stories about Jesus’ rest and prayer and quiet. Forty days of time in the wilderness prepare him for his ministry. He climbs up a mountaintop, steps away from the crowd into a boat, chats with farmers about branches and vines, rests with a woman beside a well, and takes time for prayer in Gethsemane. He tells his disciples, “Come away to a quiet place and rest for a while.” He highlights timely devotion over busy-ness in the sisterly squabble between Mary and Martha.
Imagine the internal voices and the external critics that militated against these periods of rest and renewal. “Forty days is way too long.” “The mountaintop is too removed from the real action.” “Too much time in the boat, and our whole movement goes adrift.” “Get back to work instead of dallying with women at wells and farmers in fields.” “This night is no time to pray!”
And yet the rhythm of engagement and retreat, work and Sabbath, focused outreach and intentional deepening was so noticeable and was deemed so significant that all the gospel writers thought it worthy to record. In fact, deeper reflection indicates there may even be a connection between the periods of activity and receptivity, between outpouring and replenishing. One stimulates and makes possible the other. Resting for a while doesn’t limit the mission; it furthers it. The connection between action and reflection, service and prayer, giving and receiving requires a demonstrative intentionality. Both the deepening and the reaching out grow from, and lead to, life in God.
If Jesus needed intentional times of prayer, retreat, withdrawal, rest, and replenishment to continue his ministry, what makes us so arrogant that we think we can continue ours without it? Let me be so bold as to suggest that Jesus had a pretty close relationship with God. If Jesus himself needed prayer and rest and renewal to feed his relationship with God and to strengthen his spirit and to enliven his passion, perhaps you and I do, too.
Steven Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) talks about sharpening the saw. Imagine trying to saw your way through a thick-trunked tree by hand. As the saw dulls, the work becomes harder and slower and more exhausting. Now imagine someone saying, “This task is so important that I can’t possibly stop, sit down, and sharpen the saw, or I’ll never get through it!” The absurdity in this comment is that by stopping work, sharpening the saw, and returning to work, the job will go easier, faster, and less exhausting.
During the days to come, I’ll have the chance to enjoy the blessings of time away with family and time for writing and renewal. I hope clergy and laity alike who regularly immerse themselves in the work of ministry will also find openings and occasions for time away, refreshment, and renewal. Perhaps the next time I drive up to Panera, the tank will be full, the batteries charged, and the laptop ready to hum with new energy!
Yours in Christ,