Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hanging on by a thread

Are you stressed out? A lot of us are these days. You may have a schedule so jam-packed that you don’t know how you’re going to accomplish everything you need to do. Perhaps your job requires so much of you that you don’t know if you can keep going. You may be among those who have lost their job and you have applied for a new one every place you you can think of, yet with no luck. You may be scrambling to keep your house or feed your family. Maybe you're in school and totally stressed out by all that’s expected of you by your teachers and your parents. Or you may be retired and worried sick about meeting rising costs on a fixed income.

There is no shortage of stuff to be stressed about. And we may think that in the entire history of the world, there has never been a more stressful time to be alive than right now. But the truth is, there has never been a time when people have not been stressed out. Life is hard. As the ancient Greek philosopher Seneca once said, “Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage.”

In his gospel, Mark portrays Jesus as a man who had every reason to be stressed out. He’s doing this and then he’s doing that, rushing from one thing to another. He shows up in Galilee and calls the first disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” It didn’t take any convincing. Immediately, they follow him, and they’re off. They go to Capernaum where Jesus enters the synagogue and teaches. In the midst of his teaching, a guy with an unclean spirit calls out to him. Jesus casts the unclean spirit out of him. And that’s where his anonymity ends. Word of this miracle spreads quickly and Jesus becomes a rock star. He leaves the synagogue, then goes to Simon and Andrew’s home. As soon as he gets there, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law. The next thing you know, Jesus goes to the door of the house and sees the entire city waiting for him. Everyone wants a piece of him. He heals the sick and casts out demons. And, mind you, all this occurs during his first day on the job as a traveling rabbi. It all happens in a single day.

After he races through this very hectic, jam-packed day of ministry, Jesus has another day ahead of him that is equally demanding. How does he keep up with the frenetic pace of his life?

Mark includes a remarkable detail in the first chapter of his gospel account. It’s a scene that is repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry. In the midst of all the teaching and healing and casting out demons, we get a simple verse that tells us how Jesus dealt with all this stress in his life. Mark, who gives us an energizer bunny approach to Jesus’ ministry, going from one activity to another in rapid succession, tells us that “in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

For most of us, if we have a lot to do in a day, the expendable part of our schedule becomes prayer, doesn’t it? In fact, we often use that as an excuse. "I’ve got too much to do. I don’t have time to pray."

I remember being so inspired when I heard that Martin Luther once said, “I have twice as much to do today and therefore I need to pray twice as long.” It inspired me… until I started feeling guilty about it.

Now, please know that I’m not bringing this up to make us all feel guilty if we don’t pray as often as we should. This is not about being good little boys and girls and saying our prayers every day. It’s not about putting in our time with God like we’re fulfilling an obligation. It’s about something much deeper than that.

St. Augustine identified our very human longing when he said that our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God. Could it be that our stressed-out lives are a symptom of a deeper condition that afflicts us: restless heart syndrome? Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.

There’s a passage from Isaiah that seems to speak to this. The prophet is talking to Israel when they have hit bottom and can see no reason to hope for a better future. And here’s what he tells them:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
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 rise up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31)

All this will happen for those who wait on the Lord. So what does that mean, to wait on the Lord?

In the Hebrew language in which this passage was originally written, there are dozens of words for wait. For example, there’s waiting like you’re expecting something to happen, but that’s not the word that’s used here. There’s waiting silently, but that’s not the word that’s used here. There’s waiting as standing still, but that's not the word that’s used here. This is a very special kind of waiting that Isaiah’s talking about. It’s the word Qavah and it means to be gathered into God like strands of thread woven together to become a fabric. It’s being woven together into God. Those who are woven into the fabric of God shall new their strength.

And isn’t that why Jesus got up early in the morning, before the sun had risen, and he went to a place all by himself and prayed? In the midst of all his doing, doing, doing, he knew that he needed to be. He needed to be with God. To be woven into God. That’s what happens when, in the midst of our doing, doing, doing, we take time to be with God. We are woven into the fabric of God.

Most of us go through life hanging on by a thread. But as God’s people we don’t have to go through life frantically grasping at something that all too easily slips through our fingers. We can be woven into God instead. Why would we want to go through life hanging on by a thread when we can be woven into the fabric of God?

1 comment:

Pauline said...

I really like the picture you painted in the last paragraph. Thanks.