Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Caught In-Between

All of us have had the experience of being caught in-between, of being stuck in the middle. We are on our way to one place, but not yet there. We are trying to move forward, but still shaking off our past. Sometimes, we are caught between parents; sometimes caught between boyfriends or girlfriends; sometimes, caught between jobs; sometimes, caught between schools or grades; and always caught between billing cycles on our credit cards, between having money and not having money. Other times, we are caught between depression and happiness; caught between discontentment and satisfaction; caught between anger and forgiveness; caught between knowing who we are and feeling totally lost.

When we are caught in-between, it’s best to just take things slow. To give ourselves time to figure out what we want, and then, to start making moves to get what we want.

Jesus is caught between two places in today’s scripture. He and the disciples are caught between needing rest and dealing with the demands of the world. Who here hasn’t been in that predicament? The text says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6: 31). But then, as they are heading to the deserted place in a boat, people saw them leaving and ran ahead of them on foot so that they were waiting there when Jesus and the disciples arrived. Of course, Jesus can’t just ignore them in their need so they took to healing all who came.

Many of us are tired, in need of down time, but the demands of everyday life just don’t allow us to take a much needed break. If I had a nickel for every person who has told me, “There isn’t enough time in the day.” Or “I’m just so busy,” I would be a rich woman. We have houses to clean, jobs to work, classes to attend, sports to play, exercises to perform, friends to socialize with, worship to go to, you name it.

However, author Brecht Vandenbroucke argues that we impose this busyness on ourselves because without being busy, who would we be? He writes, “Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance…obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Perhaps all busyness is not inevitable. Perhaps some of it is chosen. If you feel overly busy, it might be worth your while to write down all the things you do in a week with your time. What of them are essential? What are pleasurable? What are busywork? Just like operations can be streamlined at a factory, so too can the ways we spend our time be streamlined based on what is truly important and life-giving. Anything that we do that wastes our time, is nonessential or adds to our stress might just have to go.

Because we pay a hefty price for all our busyness. One, it leads to stress and exhaustion. Who here can truly enjoy life when you’re on your last nerve and burnt out? I maintain that one of the meanings of life is that we are here to enjoy it. If we are too busy, we lose some of our ability to enjoy and to just be.

Two, busyness prevents us from taking time for our relationships, which I would argue are the most important things we have in life. There is this touching story in The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh about a little boy who wants nothing more for his birthday than for his father to be present with him. Usually, the father is too busy with work, but when his son says that all he wants is his daddy to be around for his birthday, the father can’t help but make more time in his week for his child.

Third, busyness makes us lose touch with ourselves and with God. Each of us should be our own best friend. We should know and love ourselves as well as we know and love any other. I don’t begrudge the women who get pedicures or the men who spend Saturdays playing golf. People need to make time for themselves. And when we make time for ourselves, we make time for God because the Spirit is in us just waiting for a little down time so we can pay attention to it.

So when you’re writing down all the ways in which you spend your time, consider also making a list of the ways you wish you spent your time. Include in that second list, time for rest, time for relationships, and time for yourself. Make it your goal to integrate these important aspects into your daily routine.

So, what about Jesus? Did he ever find time to rest, time for relationships, time for himself? He definitely made time for people. In the Bible, he’s always making time for people. And the Scriptures also tell us that he made time for himself and his relationship with God as well. You can’t give to others continuously if you yourself are an empty vessel.

Let me read you the words of Bernard of Clairvaux, who advises us to be more like a reservoir than a canal:

Those who are wise will see their lives as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled then pours forth the overflow without loss to itself. They know what a curse it is in on those who allow their own property to degenerate. And if you think my opinion worthless then listen to one who is wiser than I. “Fools,” said Solomon, “come out with all their feelings at once but the wise subdue and restrain them.” Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent [is their need to help] that they want to pour it forth before they have been filled. They are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves. (Pennington, Basil (editor). Bernard of Clairvaux: A Lover Teaching the Way. Pg. 107).

We have to fill up in order to give from our abundance, like a reservoir; otherwise, we will just be giving the little that we have, like a leaky canal.

Whether you’re caught between this thingor that, one person or another, it is always important to remember that we can rely on the Creator, on Christ and on the Holy Spirit to love, support and guide us along the way. While we are taking our rest, while we are filling up, God is still working in us and among us.