In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus hits the ground running. The writer of the gospel describes innumerable act of ministry, healings, miracles, teaching, and preaching . . . it is non-stop action. So it was also for his disciples. As you remember from a few weeks ago, Jesus sent the disciples out on their first assignment to go forth and preach the good news and preform ministry on those they encountered in nearby villages . . . a hugely successful endeavor. Thus it should not come a surprise that we find Jesus urging his disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Jesus and the disciples were tired. They needed rest . . . they needed nourishment . . . they needed time to refill. They needed time to refill their bodies and their ultimately their souls. They needed respite.
The definition of “respite” is “an interval of rest and relief . . . a temporary suspension or reprieve.” In many cultures throughout the world there is an understanding about the usefulness and power in “taking a break”. In some cultures there is the practice of siesta or the mid-day nap. Basically everything shuts down while people relax and nap before heading back to work or their daily tasks. Research has shown that workers are more productive in the workplace if they are allowed to take a nap. Now mind you, we are not talking about the good two-hour drool out of your mouth sort of nap, but a quick five minute snooze. Researchers have found that this re-energizes and helps the workers focus on the tasks before them. In many professional occupations they have harnessed the power of sabbaticals to re-energize themselves and be more productive in their professions. It is all respite . . . rest for the mind, body, and soul.
What Jesus was suggesting to the disciples was not some random practice, but a discipline that he himself practiced. Throughout the gospels we are told and reminded of the times that Jesus went off to be by himself . . . that he went to a quiet place . . . to rest . . . to pray . . . to find respite for the soul. And, we are also told and reminded by those same writers that each time he came out of those times of respite that he jumped by into the fray of his ministry with new-founded focus, power, and effectiveness.
Hearing this prompting of Jesus to his disciples to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” . . . well, we, too, are called to do the same within our lives. We are called upon to be good stewards of our lives and our faith. We are called to the practice and discipline of “respite for the soul”. We are called to intervals of rest and relief . . . times of suspension and reprieve from the busyness of our lives.
The bottom line is we all need a break every once in a while . . . if not more.
At the university I work in an office that has seen many of my co-workers dealing with aging parents. Many of my co-workers parents have gotten older and their bodies have begun the process of change. Some of them have seen their parent’s health and bodies deteriorate . . . seen more hospitalizations . . . and they have witnessed their once strong and independent parents become more and more dependent as age exerts itself upon them. They have seen their parents drop into that shadowland of dementia and Alzheimer’s . . . lost in a fog that only briefly allows their parents to be themselves. Thus they are spending a lot of their free time with their parents to meet their needs and to make sure they are safe . . . most of them are spending all of their spare time taking care of their aging parents.
The result is that they are tired . . . well, actually they are exhausted. Their exhausted is affecting their lives. They are not as sharp as they normally are in the office . . . it is hard to be sharp when one is tired. They are worn out. I know that I am preaching to the choir as some of you have had to take care of your parents or other loved ones in similar situations. Over and over again, many of co-workers have said that it was a relief just to come to work and to get away from the constant demand of caring for a loved one. That despite the fact that it is “work”, they were finding a sort of respite. Thus it is that they put in their forty hours before they head back to the grind of it all.
Office workers know the power of respite through coffee breaks. Teachers know the power of respite through recesses. Sport teams know the power of the timeout. All of us know the power of the nap. Even the shows that we watch on television understand the power of taking a moment away from the action to help viewers focus on the upcoming action . . . thus commercials. Even society is beginning to understand the power and need for respite.
There are respite businesses . . . especially for those taking care of elderly parents or loved one with disabilities. These businesses come to the home and provide relief to the caretaker by spending a few hours taking care of the parent or loved one, while giving the actual caretaker a few hours of relief and time away.
In the world of work respite comes in many forms . . . there are days off, holidays, vacation. All are meant to give the workers time off to rest and rejuvenate.
So it should be with our faith.
Coming to worship on Sunday morning is a good way to start the practice of “respite for the soul”. Sunday worship is a break from the normal and regular tasks of our lives. It allows us the opportunity to drop what we are doing and to go and focus on something else . . . in this case, God and Jesus and our faith. It provides us rest . . . a sermon is always a good time for a quick five-minute power nap. But most of all it allows us time away from the busyness of our lives. I would encourage everyone to get into the habit of coming to worship on Sunday mornings to find some respite for the soul.
Yet, at the same time, I would tell you that that is not enough when it comes to giving rest to the soul. We all need more.
How many times in the past week have you said to yourself, I need a break? Or maybe you said that it was time for a vacation . . . or that you just needed to get away. How many times this past week have you yearned for a nap, but instead powered on with the tasks before you? How many times did you catch yourself getting frustrated with someone you love wishing that maybe they would go away for a while? How many times in the past week have you just wished that you could be by yourself . . . to read a book, to listen to some music, to go for a walk? If this is happening to you then the Spirit is talking to you . . . telling you that you need some respite for the soul. That you need an interval of rest and relief.
Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
As the followers of Jesus we would do good to heed his words. Jesus knows what he is talking about . . . the soul needs respite. The soul needs respite if it is going to effectively live up to the demands of living life in the way that God has blessed us . . . if it is going to be effective in the ministries placed upon us . . . and, if we are going to survive in such a way that we fulfill God’s will for each of us. We, the followers of Jesus, need those times of rest and relief. Yes, there is much work to be done, but that work cannot be done if we are exhausted, frustrated, and angry because we are tired.
The challenge is to develop a discipline of respite. True, we start with worship on Sunday mornings . . . which is also a gift we can give to others by inviting them to join us in worship each week. But there needs to be more. Begin to practice giving yourselves the gift of respite in your own lives away from the church on Sunday morning. Find a quiet place in your homes to pause, reflect, pray, and find rest. Find a place in yourself where you can go and take a deep breath to find rest. Take a few moments to read . . . the Bible or some other book that takes you away for a few moments. Close your eyes and allow yourselves a moment of rest.