self-care

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:30-31

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

Mark 7:24

These two incidents in Mark’s gospel account were unsuccessful attempts by Jesus to withdraw and rest with his disciples, even perhaps by himself, as we see in the second instance. Surely this was a practice, something he had his disciples do with him on a regular basis interspersed between all the activity in their full days.

Self-care has never been high on my list of things I actually cared about. At least not explicitly, in my thinking, though really most of us do it to some degree automatically, somewhat like moving your finger off something that’s too hot.

I am finding for myself that self-care actually is helping me come around and get my bearings in ways I previously haven’t.

Self-care doesn’t mean self-indulgence or laziness. Taking care of oneself physically and spiritually, of course mentally and socially in that mix as well. The physical part can be underrated. We surely see something of that in the two passages above. We as humans are physical. You can’t disconnect that part from who we are. That affects everything else. If I don’t get enough sleep, then I’ll likely suffer the consequences later on, being dog tired at work, or irritable, not feeling good, whatever. So we have to take care of ourselves. Eating well, also.

And it definitely means taking care of myself spiritually. I want to do so in communion and participation with others of God’s people. We miss church meeting now, though we’ve met outdoors with our small group, socially distanced in the warm breezy summer air. And seeking to shore up on the basics: Scripture reading and meditation, and prayer.

Self-care has its place. Otherwise it’s replaced with all kinds of things which may not be good. Better to get back to square one and see this as nothing less than a responsibility.

Jesus was fully human, so needed it himself. How much more do we? God will help us; Jesus understand fully, and will help us.

In and through Jesus.

deliberate in step with the Spirit

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25

It is easy to get out of step from the Spirit of God. All we have to do is what comes naturally to us, what is of the flesh. For us who are followers of Christ this becomes a bit complicated, not as straightforward. Although depending on where everyone is at on their spiritual journey, we can’t say it’s not complicated for others. But Scripture says people are either in the flesh or in the Spirit depending on whether or not their faith is in Christ. Paul’s letters make that clear. And yet those who are in the Spirit can fall into practices of the flesh. As Paul says, quoted above: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

I find oftentimes that I have to slow down and gather my thoughts. My thoughts can be disheveled, scattered here and there. When I do that what comes to the fore is something of a settledness on quiet and on what’s essential to Christ-followers. All the sudden it’s like there’s a gradual God meeting time again. I find this especially to be true when meeting with other believers. Or at least we can know more easily then that God was with us, that God was in that place, even though we may not have recognized it at the time. In Paul’s account here, he’s talking about life in community. We are meant to do this together. But much of life is lived more or less in solitude. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t make much sense in solitude, and see the rest of the passage (click above link). But even when alone we need to hold on to what is good not only for ourselves, but for others. In prayer, our thoughts and attitudes, what we can do. As well as accepting needed rest and quiet.

This is like a dance so to speak. I find for myself that I often need to slow down, maybe even stop, but just consciously think of not trying to do too much, just one thing at a time. Doing what I need to, what I have to do. I find God helps me there. For us by ourselves as well as with others. In and through Jesus.

learning to relax

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31b

These words of Jesus were interrupted by the incessant swell of humanity demanding attention. There’s at least one other place where Jesus wanted solitude and rest, but was likewise interrupted (Mark 7:24). Good reminders to us that though we may attempt to relax and get some rest, we may not always be able to.

But the point remains: Jesus did value solitude, quiet and rest. In their case it was an escape from what surely was an exhausting ministry, even if to Jesus such was invigorating (John 4). Still even he in his humanity needed rest and quiet time with his disciples, and especially with his Father.

As I get older I’m finding it naturally easier to rest and not think I have to be doing something. Oftentimes the best thing we can do is simply nothing. Be in God’s presence, in quiet so as to hear God’s gentle whisper. But simply resting. Knowing it’s God’s work, as well as his will that matter. We receive and participate in that. And rest in him. In and through Jesus.

negotiating rest

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6

I’m not the worst when it comes to rest, since I can do it just about any time, maybe due to a degree of sleep deprivation over the years. But when it comes to simply resting when on vacation, I chafe a little under the bit. Work for me is where it’s at. I need to be doing something.

Jesus’s words to his disciples came in the midst of a busy season for them, full of ministry to many people. And even when they were endeavoring to get away, a crowd pressed in, Jesus changed his plans, and what followed was the feeding off the five thousand.

Rest in our day surely means to unplug and stay that way, except for an emergency phone call. Being present for others certainly means that at times our rest stops will be interrupted. But we need to be committed to slowing down, even stopping. Simply being in a place where we can rest alone and in quiet. We are little aware just how much we need such times to undo our frazzled, ever moving interior experience, which we see as normal.

We need to learn to be at rest with the Lord, leaving our own propensity to strive and at times even panic, behind. Just the fact that Jesus called his disciples to this, and more than once, is instructive for us today. We need those getaways from our immediate surroundings, yes from the internet. If at home, simply in quiet. We need to simply stop and do nothing. In the presence of the one who can help us enter into the Sabbath rest in which we are refreshed and renewed. Something I want to learn to not do, but be in better. In and through Jesus.

rest and quiet

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31

Although this is in the pericope of the feeding of the five thousand, it is noteworthy in that our Lord encourages his disciples, and by extension, even us, to break away from service, from ministry, from our work, and get some quiet rest.

We live in a society which lives for its weekends, but little knows, I suppose, the rest Jesus talks about here. We need time and space to gather our thoughts, to gather ourselves, since we get so enmeshed, worked up and worked in the bundle of necessary and even good, healthy in its place as long as it has some balance, but the normal everyday workaday world. Unlike so many societies in the past and present, we have plenty of time for diversions along the way, for entertainment and plenty of distractions. But how much of the kind of rest the Lord was pressing on his disciples, do we really get? Do we know much at all about such rest?

Of course in the case above, life came pressing in on Jesus and the disciples, so that the plan was thwarted, a multitude coming to be fed not only from the five loaves of bread and the two small fishes, but from the mouth of the Lord himself. But there were surely times when they were able to get some of that rest.

I need that kind of rest. I used to enjoy complete solitude and would often want to get away to wooded, scenic places to be quiet, read scripture and pray, to simply enjoy the scenery. I still like to get away, but preferably with my wife. I still like some solitude, but I prefer company, easily getting lonely, so that I would long for human companionship. In the case of Jesus and his disciples, evidently they would be with each other and him, but apart from the crowds, the noisy throng of people who clammered to the Lord to be healed and to hear just what he would have to say. So it must have been a highlight to the disciples, and to the Lord himself, to actually find such spaces, though in the gospel accounts, we find such withdrawals interrupted.

I look forward even to breaks from the normal routine, ideally two weeks away, although we usually have just around one week away. Whatever time we can get in quiet and loving fellowship or communion with our Lord and each other, is a good time. We probably need more of it. Especially some of the poor, who because of the evil of the day, do not have a job which gives them a living wage, not to mention, good healthcare. Both ought to be a given, not because they’re a “right,” but because these people are made in God’s image and loved by God, and should be loved by all, their personhood and needs met.* Instead too many of them work more than one job, sometimes two or three, and barely have enough time to rest at all.

Yes, everyone needs and deserves, being made in God’s image, and loved by God, some rest from their work. We all need to make that a priority for ourselves and encourage others to do the same. So that we can find ourselves and each other and the Lord. To hear his voice, to be renewed and refreshed. To know that we are loved, as we love each other. Quiet. Rest. May we know some of that this summer, and this year. And in so doing, find new strength, new vision, maybe just new quiet, and know more and share the love God has for us.

*From Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, a book I would highly recommend.

Where is Jesus?

Sometimes we simply need to get away from it all, to be free of the pressing duties and even the concerns of life. To simply relax and enjoy, to be at peace. In that to seek the Lord indeed. But to have some amusement and fun, now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

During Jesus’s busy time of ministry, he had times when he would want to simply get away with his disciples and rest, although he couldn’t escape the people. He was known to get up early at least some mornings and get away to have communion in prayer with his Father. Yes, we need times like that. We need a certain kind of stillness and solitude.

But more often than not, we’ll find Jesus, and God in him in the pressing duties of everyday life, and in the difficult things which come our way. We can grow weary and tired over that, and we do need some breaks now and then. But more often than not, that’s where we’ll find Jesus, and God in him at work.

And so while we need to take care of ourselves, we also need to look for Jesus. Where is Jesus? What would God be doing in and through Jesus today, even through us who are in Jesus, in whatever humble way we can serve, even if only by being present?

Lent and community

There is a sense in which we necessarily follow Christ alone. We can’t depend on the commitment of others; we must be committed ourselves. Someone else can’t do it for us, not even by their prayers. In answer to their prayers, we must enter and remain on the straight and narrow ourselves.

Just the same, community is important on a number of levels. We are called as individuals into community. When the disciples followed Jesus to Jerusalem where he had told them he was to suffer, be killed and on the third day be raised to life, they did so together. They were in this together for better and for worse. Each one for sure needed to do their part, but somehow the dynamic of the community they were was greater than the sum total of all their parts.

And so Lent is a personal time of reflection in preparation for Holy Week in which we especially want to be open to the Lord in becoming aware of our sin so that we might confess them and repent, a time of drawing nearer to our Lord to, in the words of the Apostle Paul, become like him in his death. And yet Lent is together, as well. We are never meant to either go it alone, nor are we meant to find our identity only in ourselves and in our Lord. Somehow our identity is found in fellowship with others as well, especially those who with us are of the family of believers, of the faithful in Jesus.

And so both dynamics are vitally important. We need a certain kind of solitude and fortitude that is within ourselves in the grace of God in Jesus by the Spirit. But along with that we were made for communion with the Triune God and the community of the redeemed. Both are essential to the fullness of life that is ours in Jesus.  God calls us in his grace to growth in each. In our becoming more and more like his Son, Jesus.

relationships

We meet God through Jesus and we draw near to God in and through Jesus. And there is a rather strong Christian tradition of solitude, its roots likely in the early church Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers, that tradition rooted in scripture, although taking a life of its own (some matters good, and some in my opinion, probably not so good). We find the practice of regular solitude in the life of our Lord in his meeting with the Father privately in prayer.

And so there’s something fundamental and indeed relational about that. God is a relational God as Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit, being in eternal union and communion with God’s Self in these Three Persons. And in and through Jesus by the Spirit we are taken up into this communion. We too, made in God’s image as humans are relational beings. We relate to God, to each other, to ourselves and to creation. Indeed, we are in relationship with each other, a relationship which is actually to be lived within the relationship we have with God, in the love of God in and through Jesus.

We can err in simply emphasizing the “horizontal,” that is the relationships we have with people. While those can have much good in common grace, they are not inherently Christian. And for that matter we can err in simply emphasizing the “vertical” our relationship with God as individuals, apart from the communion of the saints, the Lord’s people into which we are brought. The dynamic from the Spirit of life in Christ includes both as one whole and as regular parts of our lives in Jesus. We partake of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table together, not just as a bunch of individuals. We are friends of our Lord, and therefore friends together, family no less, in and through Jesus.

Without both aspects of this relationship, we will not do well. We have to work at both. Perhaps priority is given in sequence to our relationship with God, but we can’t stop there. We must relate with others as well. That is inherent in our humanity. Not just in the marital relationship, but “it is not good for the man to live alone,” I think has implications beyond that primary meaning of the Genesis text. And in Christ we are members together of one body, likened to a human body and meant to grow up together into maturity in Christ.

And so we are relational creatures. We are in relationship to God even if that’s broken by sin, restored through Christ, and we are in relationship to other human beings, again often broken through sin, but restored through Christ. And so we must live with an emphasis on growing in this fundamental aspect of our humanity. We do so together in Jesus in God’s love and for the world.

solitude

I have to admit that I tend to dislike any practice that is not communal in orientation. I want to connect with others. I want to be with my wife. I want to have good relationships with others of our church, and those who don’t believe. I am in a sense a social being, and really we all are, since that is an essential part of our humanity. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” In the end in the Revelation there is a city.

And yet there’s another part of me which craves solitude. I really want some space, some aloneness. There is nothing better to me on a normal evening than to be in the living room with Deb, listening to classical music while reading a good book. And second best is when I’m alone doing that.

Jesus was around people nearly all the time. Crowds came. Even when they subsided, he was still busy in ministry to them. And as a Rabbi, he was the Master to followers who lived with him in keeping with that tradition, learning all they could from the totality of his life (see Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life).

And yet Jesus himself used to break away with his disciples from the crowds to get some rest and just be together I’m sure, and he would break away from his disciples as well, to meet with his Father in a solitary place.

We need solitude. In the busyness and humdrum of a normal day, I always want to be on the same wavelength of the others I’m working with, but at certain points I don’t mind at all simply being alone. In prayer. Seeking God, or speaking to him and hopefully listening, and reciting the Lord’s/our Father prayer, along with the Jesus Creed, and perhaps just working at being silent in my mind, actually a good idea I rarely practice, I’m afraid.

I admit though that I’m not really good at practicing solitude, as Christians have for centuries. I am thankful that our church encourages this practice, and especially our Pastor Sharon, who exemplifies it  quite well for us. So I hope to grow in it, so as to really walk with God in all of life. Together with others, that people may see Jesus in and through us.

tested and tried

It’s interesting how often I am tested on a certain matter the same day I post about it on this blog. Somehow I see the devil in those details, yet I also can learn to see the Lord. The devil of course tempts us, wanting us to fall. Out of love the Lord tests us, to refine us and make us holy.

Early church desert fathers and mothers from what I understand, spent extended time in solitude and experienced much of the temptation of the devil, there. Just as our Lord did when he was tempted forty days and nights in the wilderness. Such times were times of drawing near to God, and hearing God’s voice. Followed by rich blessing for many when they returned to society. I think especially of Anthony of Egypt.

I want to finagle my way out of such times. Instead of resisting the devil and drawing near to God, I want to complain. Alright, if I pour out my complaints to God as in the psalms.

Shouldn’t I develop a new attitude toward trials? I think so. I should see them as necessary in a process of my becoming like Jesus. I need to resist the devil in all of his schemes. Learning discernment in that. And I need to draw near to God, to hear God’s voice, and learn to see his heart and hand in everything.

Tested, tried and in the end found true. For all of us, in and through Jesus, that we might become more and more like him, together for the world.