Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Mark 6:30-34
It’s common knowledge in my family that I am a fairly extreme introvert. When I was a child, I set up a bed in my closet so that I could have two doors separating me from other people in silence. I would sit in a tiny closet for hours upon hours reading by myself. I regularly begged my parents to ground me so that I would have a valid excuse for skipping the party, get together, or the introvert’s nightmare, a sleepover. I still struggle with not getting enough alone time. Two days in a row of seeing people makes me irritable. When I see my phone ring, I get anxiety. Long flights surrounded by people talking make me want to scream. Retreats don’t count as a retreat if it means I’ll be with other people or sharing a room. I really do love humans, including my friends, and family members; I just need at least 90% of my time to be spent alone and less than 10% with them. I often feel alone in this way. The world seems to be made up of extroverts and I do my best to navigate that world.
And then there’s Jesus. And I smile, because I feel like he gets me. “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” He gets it. Jesus rested by himself regularly and then encouraged his followers to do it, too. He understood the complete and utter exhaustion from serving and loving and just plain talking to other people. He understood that the light switch needs to turn off sometimes. So he made time and space to do that.
He and his disciples got in a boat and went to a deserted place. But the people figured it out and arrived there on foot before the boat arrived, waiting for the emotionally exhausted disciples. Basically, Jesus had every introvert’s worst nightmare come true. And this didn’t happen just once. This was life for Jesus. And his response is so beautiful. Instead of being angry that they moved in on his ‘me time’, his heart was moved with pity for them. And he began to teach them and shepherd them with love, even when what he needed was a serious break. In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus models two distinct and equally healthy responses from us as humans as we navigate life. He models the need for retreat and refreshment away from the busyness of life and then models showing compassion and kindness even when we cannot get that rest and are instead emotionally and physically spent.
Introvert or not, we all need breaks. We all need to go to a deserted place sometimes and rest a while. Sometimes that is our nighttime walk, our commute home, or a glass of wine or lemonade on the porch at sunset. Or maybe we need to sign up for a retreat, take a weekend at a convent or monastery or book the flight to the mountains and get away. Other times “our retreat from the world may have to be more serious and more constantly present in our lives than a weekly counseling visit or an occasional camping trip.” (Thomas Moore) Whatever it is, we need to do it. We need to ‘go away by ourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.’ And when we start to feel guilty, we need to model ourselves after Jesus and just take that break!
And then there are times that our circumstances will not allow us to take the break we so deeply desire and need. We try. We get on the boat. We make it to the other side and there they all are. Everyone is waiting for more of us. How do we respond? Are we able to be moved with pity? Are we willing to stop, take a breath, and call on the Spirit to guide our hearts to respond with love and not frustration and exhaustion?
Christianity is not for the faint of heart. The great commandment of love can be the hardest thing in the world to live out. Once in a while love comes naturally, and then it is easy. But this is the expection. Most of the time love requires courage, self-sacrifice, and lots of patience. - Father Johnathan Morris