Scripture: Mark 1:29-39
Americans are always in a hurry. French Political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about the hurried pace of Americans all the way back in the 1840s. It seems being hurried and busy is a constant in our American way of life, and most people feel busier now than ever before. However, this is odd because the numbers do not back it up. While it is true that full time workers in America spend more time working than in any other developed country, the average amount of time spent working has only up ticked slightly in the past 30 years. In the same way, the majority of parents today believe that being too busy has made it so they cannot spend as much time with their children as the want, but statistically parents today spend more time with their kids than previous generations. Apparently we have always been in a hurry but we have not always felt this busy. The reality is that there are some people who are busier, but as a whole we are not any busier than were in the 70’s and 80’s. This has led several social scientists and psychologists to do studies and publish theories on why we feel this way, and there are two leading schools of thought.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty details as to how this happened, one of the leading thoughts is that we monetize time. It has become engrained into our cultural ethos that we treat time as money. An experiment was done to show this. They had people listen to a piece of classical music. However, one group was asked to calculate how much they make an hour. That group was much less likely to enjoy the song and thought it lasted far too long. The theory is when we end up thinking of time as something with a financial figure attached to it, we are more likely to force ourselves to make our time financially productive. This creates a constant feeling of being busy because to not be busy is to waste time and thus loose financial wellbeing. The second major theory as to why the feeling of busyness has increased is related to this. At some point in the past fifty years or so, the idea of being busy became a status symbol. We tend to view people who are busy as being more successful, so this means that people tend to chase down being busy and actually make themselves busier so that they can feel and be viewed as more successful. Yet these feelings of busyness also bring feelings of stress and being overwhelmed. The ways to overcome our feelings of busyness, slow down, and enjoy life have less to do with what we are doing (because remember we are not much more busy now than we used to be) it has to do with our attitudes. When we are feeling overwhelmed and so busy that we can’t even the best thing we can do is actually step away for a moment and refocus ourselves on what is important. That is what the research and psychologists of today tell us, and that is also the message of this morning’s scripture.
This morning’s scripture picks off right where last weeks left off. After recruiting his first disciples, Jesus goes to Peter’s hometown of Capernaum and teaches in the synagogue. He teaches with authority and drives out an impure spirit. As Jesus goes to the house of Peter and Andrew, I like how casually he heals Peter’s mother in law. He just helps her up and like that the fever leaves her and she is good to go. From there though, things escalated quickly and Jesus gets very busy. I imagine the story of what he did earlier that day in the synagogue with casting out the impure spirit spread quickly. In the same way, I wonder if the story of healing Peter’s mother in law spread. Capernaum was not a very big town, did Peter’s mother law or even Peter himself happen to step outside for a moment and mention the miraculous healing that has just happened to a neighbor? In either event, people seemed to get the message of Jesus fairly quickly and by the evening the whole town was crowded around a small house to see what incredible thing Jesus would do next.
We have to put this scripture in perspective. This is more or less the official start of Jesus’ ministry. Capernaum was the launching point for Jesus, and he found instant success and an audience eager to hear him. One of our core beliefs as Christians is that Jesus is fully God but he is also fully human. Being human Jesus experienced much of the human experience that we go through. I cannot help but wonder here, if Jesus got overwhelmed. If seeing all of these people eager to be healed by him was more than he was expecting. This was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and it seemed that it could not have gone any better.
After this first day Jesus was busy. He probably could have stayed busy. He could have spent the whole day healing every minor ailment. As the news spread, he could have established himself in Capernaum. Set up a process to schedule healing appointments, while establishing regular teaching times. He could have kept busy and transformed the synagogue in Capernaum into a Mega-synagogue. Doing so would have made Jesus a huge success by both our ancient standards and our modern standards. Jesus could have double downed and committed himself to a lifestyle of busyness and success, but instead he did the opposite. He withdrew. When Jesus was overwhelmed he left all of the busyness behind to see out God in prayer. We get an impression from the disciples that this was not a popular move. We get the impression that the assumption is that Jesus would commit to being busy because everyone was looking for him for that very purpose.
However, that is what Jesus did. When things picked up steam, he put on the breaks. When he was busy, he dropped everything. When he felt overwhelmed he did not frantically work out of it, he sat still. In other words, Jesus did the exact opposite of what we (or at least what I) probably would have done. Jesus sought out God in prayer, and doing so gave Jesus focus and direction. It reminded him that he was not sent to earth to be a successful healer, he was sent to preach the good news.
I think we can learn from Jesus example, because from time to time we all get overwhelmed. Even if it is true that much of our perceived busyness is by our own design and perspective that does not mean it cannot be overwhelming. There is always something else that needs to be done, something that must be tended to, and the entire time the dishes pile up in the sink. We live in a culture that for better or worse values busyness, and it is our cultural expectation that successful people thrive the busier they are. That is a lie. It is OK if there ae times you feel like you can’t even. If just the pace of life feels overwhelming to you right now, that does not mean you are a failure. Even Jesus, who had the power of God, felt overwhelmed at times. When the pace of life feels to fast and when the grind of daily life feels like it is going to reduce us to dust, we should follow the example of Jesus. We should retreat. Jesus went out into the countryside, and if that is not an option then we can close ourselves in a room without our phones and make our own solitary place. Jesus sought God in prayer and it made a real difference. It can still make a difference for us today. Often when we overwhelmed by the pace of daily life it is because we feel tired, we feel weak, and we feel there is to much to handle. Psalm 46:10 puts it this way, “Be still and know that I am God.” When we are still then all of our worries and stress is left behind. When we take time to seek God in prayer, when we connect with God then we are reminded that we are in God’s hands. We are reminded that the Creator of the universe, the one who created trillions of stars as well as every grain of sand, knows us by name and cares for us We are reminded that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are reminded that even though we can’t even God most certainly can. We are reminded that with God all things are possible. Brothers and sister in Christ, there is strength and there is real power in those reminders. The great reformer Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” While the thought of praying for three straight hours might be a bit much for most of us now, I think we can take his point to heart. Prayer centers us with God, and when we are centered with God we lift our cares, our schedules, our busyness up to God. It is remarkable how when we do that the things that seemed overwhelming are now manageable, and the thought “I can’t even” is replaced by I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Sometimes though we are overwhelmed by life, not because the grind of it gets to us but because sometimes life is honestly overwhelming. All of us have had times in our lives where it seems like when it rains in pours and no good deed goes unpunished. We all have or will go through times when the job fell through, when the diagnosis came back not good, or when the one unexpected event we never thought we had to plan for is exactly what happens. During those times, we feel overwhelmed. We feel overwhelmed not because we are busy but because we are lost. We are disoriented, we do not where to turn and we do not know what to do. In those times, then we can still follow Jesus’ example and find God in a solitary place. This scripture does not record exactly what words Jesus prayed, but it seems to indicate he was seeking direction from God, and he got it. When his disciples finally found them, he knew what he had to do. In the same way, I am a firm believer that God guides us and directs us. It may not always be on the time table we want and God may not provide guidance the way we are expecting, but in those times when we are unsure what to do we can let God be our guide. We can trust that God will lead us.
Life can be busy, it can be tiring, and it can be just down right hard. Far too often in those times we either make ourselves sick with worry or we seek to just set all aside while we binge on some sort of TV marathon. May I suggest a third option? When life is hard, when we are tired of being busy, when we can’t even, may we turn to God. May we find a solitary, quiet place and seek the presence of the Lord. Sometimes we do not need to even say anything. If you are anything like me, then we should probably say less in prayer and listen more. We can rest in the Lord. We can find a peace, a contentment, and a strength that is not possible to attain in any other way.
I urge you to truly consider doing this. We are ten days away from lent starting. One of the focuses in lent are spiritual disciplines, the actions we do regularly to strengthen and deepen our faith. This lent please consider taking time each day to find your solitary place and seek God in prayer. I challenge you to do this, and see if spending time in prayer in this way makes the busyness and trials of life more bearable. There is an old hymn that describes what happens when we do this. It goes like this, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”