To hear audio of this sermon, click here.
I can’t tell whether I should be encouraged or disheartened that Jesus himself struggled to get some quiet time all alone. Take a look at the gospel lesson for today, Mark 1:29-45. As soon as Jesus was finished teaching in the synagogue, he went to Peter’s house, where at once he healed his mother-in-law. Soon afterwards, the crowds starting bringing their sick and demon-possessed relatives to him so that he could heal them, too. Then, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he snuck off to a lonely place so that he could pray, but his disciples tracked him down and said, “Come on, boss! Everyone is looking for you!” So he got up and went with them from one town to another. Along the way, a leper came to him, begging for healing, and, as soon as he was cured, he went around telling everyone the good news. Jesus became so popular that he couldn’t even stay in the towns. He had to go camp out in the countryside, but they found him there anyway.
Should I take heart that Jesus, too, knew what it was like to have a busy schedule that interferes with needed time for prayer, silence, and reflection? Or should I panic that, if the incarnate Son of God couldn’t figure it out, it’s utterly hopeless for me?
All the way through the gospel story, Jesus fought to get time away. He snuck out when no one was looking. He sent the disciples away ahead of him so that he could hang back by himself. He went up on mountains and out into deserts and away into lonely places so that he could escape the pressure of the crowd that craved his attention, his prophetic words, and his healing touch. And why? Because even the Son of God could not be effective in ministry without taking care of his own, personal spiritual life.
How do you take care of your spirit? How do you tend your relationship with God? How do you nourish the part of you that seeks to be in an undistracted, uninterrupted, unhurried communion with God? Do you catch a few minutes here or there? Do you say your prayers in the car when you’re on your way to work? Do you lie in bed, fighting to stay awake long enough to thank God for a good day? Do you wake up on Sunday morning and think, “I’m exhausted. My family is exhausted. We’ve been running non-stop. We need a day off. We can’t go to church today?”
Almost everyone I know is busy. Yesterday, I spent time with the clergy from the diocese, and I heard a retired priest talk about needing a sabbatical. At first, I laughed and thought to myself, “A sabbatical from what?” But I woke up this morning realizing that everyone is busy—too busy. Whether it’s the demands of a job or a family or a house or a garden or a civic organization or a church—all of us feel the demands of busyness. None of us has enough time to take care of ourselves. But is that true?
The encouragement I get from Jesus isn’t based on the fact that he struggled to get enough time to tend to his spiritual life but that he, despite all of the pressures of a busy life, made enough time to tend to his spiritual life. The question isn’t one of time. It is one of priority. And Jesus shows us that, even when individuals’ lives and health and wholeness hang in the balance, time apart for prayer was still a priority. Those moments were important enough to run away from the urgency of those in need. Those moments were critical enough to leave the office a few hours early. Those moments were just as needed as his healing touch.
Follow Jesus’ example. That doesn’t mean you have to run out into the desert to pray. But let him give you permission to let go of some of the things that seem too busy to drop. Trust that scheduling time alone with God is more important than even the most critical demand in your day.