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At the church I pastor, a Sunday School class for parents of young preschoolers decided to rename itself. They kicked around several possibilities, such as Seekers or Searchers or maybe Learners. But all of these seemed too removed from the everyday wear-and-tear of their lives. Finally, one idea rose to the top. It was simple, truthful, inclusive, and playful.
Last Sunday, when I walked by the classroom, I saw the name on the door. The laminated sign simply read: "Tired Parents Class." And that said it all.
Though change is constant in this 'ole world, it seems as if change is coming at us with an ever greater velocity. Parents or not...we are all tired.
Often, it feels like we are no longer living the lives we have, but rather barely dealing with life as it comes at us.
I no sooner get use to my new cell phone or computer software or doctors on my insurance plan...and then the technology is out of date, my choices are no longer "supported," and the decisions I just made are as expired as a gallon of two-week-old milk
The evening news is no help. Instantly, we can feel the fear of Ebola or the rise and fall of the Stock Market or the spread of wars and rumors of wars from anywhere in the world.
Just ask anyone, "How ya' doing?" and then listen for the word overwhelmed. It's like we are not so much living our lives, as it is that life is coming at us too fast to handle.
At this point we encounter today's text in Mark's Gospel. It is "a day in the life" kind of story, and Jesus is the central figure. Within just a few verses, he bounces from need-to-need and place-to-place. The diary of his day could not be more jam-packed, even if he were a politician giving a stump speech at every whistle-stop. First, there's a high-profile synagogue situation; and that's followed by a personal encounter with a sick woman at her bedside; and that's followed by the private experience of prayer as Jesus steps aside for time alone with God. But then the disciples interrupt--actually, the word means hunted him down--and the cycle reboots all over again
It is a hectic itinerary. But maybe that's why it is in the Bible. This triptych of stories...one public, one personal, and one private...each invites us to eavesdrop on Jesus' spirituality...how he lived and the faith he practiced among the demands of an overwhelming world.
Maybe in this story, Mark's church saw their own story as they tried to meet needs, deal with various venues of ministry...while at the same time tend their own spirituality which had drawn them to Jesus in the first place...that beautiful intersection of "the holy and the human."
Pastors and lay-persons can appreciate the tension between "the external and the internal" or the choice between an action-oriented faith versus a contemplative one.
I remember a transition point in my life in the early 1990's. I had been a hospital chaplain, but then decided to reenter the pastorate. I had pastored before; but during those years, I felt as if my battery had been drained. I will admit there was some fear that, once again, my headlights would go dim under the shadow of the steeple.
So, I went on a retreat. I took two books: a Bible and Parker Palmer's The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring. This book was both judgment and grace; but most of all it was a call for balance. Action without contemplation is a ship without ballast; it's a set-up for sinking from disappointment. On the other hand, contemplation without action is inert; it needs interaction with the outer world to be fed and to feed. This balance is important...especially when it feels like life is coming at us at a high rate.
I see this balance in the text. Here are two take-aways I want to name:
First, if you live your life as a caring person, there will be pressure and tough choices. It happened to Jesus. It will happen to you. Don't be surprised. Spiritual maturity rarely is applauded for long.
Though every congregation is different, pastors have a lot in common. We hear stories at the sanctuary door--tales about inflamed gall bladders and graduation ceremonies--we attend committee meetings following worship, and we talk with the homeless guy that is back again. Then there's the mid-afternoon hospital visit before the evening gathering. What a kaleidoscope!
But it is not more so than being a parent. Between work and the kids' school and home management, life comes at you. For most, that is the landscape, and some terrains can't be changed, but they can be accepted. That's number one.
Here's number two: though we can't stop life coming at us, we can attend to the life that is given us. This means attending to our relationship with God.
I don't want to get off on a rant here, but I never have liked the Apostle Paul's statement: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9:22)." I affirm his honorable intention, as well as the noble need; but by Sunday night, it sounds like a grandiose recipe for burn-out.
I much prefer the punch-line of today's Hebrew Bible lectionary text. The poet/prophet Isaiah sings out:
Even youths will faint and be weary.
And the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
I suspect that is what Jesus was up to as he sequestered himself in a deserted place to pray. Perhaps by tending his prayer life, he found perspective above the fray...almost like the wings of an eagle, looking over the woes and foes of life.
The story ends with Jesus not following the advice of his wranglers. They had tracked him down, saying, "Everyone's looking for you!"
What a hook! If Jesus had not gotten his praying done, I wonder if the allure of pursuit or the price of fame could have done him in.
To his advisors, Jesus said, "Let's head in the other direction, to nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That's why I've come." Sounds to me he had the kind of clarity that comes out of one's deepest identity which finds its source and sustenance in God.
So, when life comes at you this week, you'll be ready. You've paused, you've pondered, and you've prayed. You may be a tired parent or a tired pastor or both. And, yes, you've had to make tough choices, but you have tough faith. Even before the week begins, you've found a good place to remember: your life is grounded in the goodness of God.
Let's pray. All-loving God, we give thanks that whatever terrain awaits us, you will meet us there and that will be enough. In the name of the one who came to dwell among us. Amen.
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