Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little.
The world around us is accelerating. Everything is moving faster. It almost seems like time itself moves more quickly now. The complexity of modern life also imposes its own burdens upon us. We are drowning in information and sensory experiences. We are glued to our cell phones and social media. “Having a sense of urgency” is the catch-phrase in corporate America. It all can be exhausting.
I recently had an experience that led me to reflect on our busy and fast-paced lifestyle and how it impacts our ability to encounter God in prayer.
I had to drive an old 1984 pickup truck with a manual transmission. It was the first time I had driven the truck and it had been awhile since I had driven a stick-shift. The motor was not very powerful. My twenty-minute drive required me to travel down a highway with three lanes.
Within the town limits and what I thought was a comfortable 45 MPH speed limit, I was being passed in the left lanes by multiple cars. As we left the town behind and the speed limit rose to 55 MPH, I picked up speed to make sure I was going at least the speed limit. The truck probably had a little more in it, but for a first drive I did not want to explore the limits of the engine.
I had not covered a mile outside of town before I realized that EVERYONE was passing me now. I had the windows open on the old truck on one of the first hot days of spring. As I accepted my fate for the next twenty minutes — being “that guy” driving slow in the right lane — I had peace.
The Holy Spirit was definitely ministering to me in the moment, as I thought “this is an important experience; pay attention.” I began to enjoy the drive. The truck was not the driving experience I am used to — it was not smooth, quiet and air conditioned. But driving the truck was real. There was something real about the wind and noise — and not being in a hurry.
When I finally exited the highway and found my destination, that moment of stillness in the middle of the busy highway came to an end. I stepped back into life, with all of its activity. But the effects of that moment lingered with me all week.
Jesus recognized the need to enter into that stillness. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, we see a flurry of events in rapid succession — Jesus visits his hometown and laments the lack of faith he finds there; He gives his apostles power over unclean spirits and sends them out on mission; we read the story of the execution of John the Baptist and this news reaches them; the apostles return from their ministry. At this moment, Jesus pushes the pause button:
And he said to them: Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going: and they had not so much as time to eat.1
In some way, this was my experience in the truck. I “came apart into a desert place” for those few moments and rested with the Lord. In that moment of stillness in the midst of chaos, I entered into His presence.
It is because of the busyness and chaos around us that we need to make a deliberate plan to devote time to prayer. We have to make time to be still. It is in the stillness that we have the encounter with the living God.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”2
When we have this encounter with God in the stillness, we emerge strengthened in spirit. We receive actual graces in this time of prayer — actual graces that are necessary for fruitful Christian discipleship in the world.
“The stillness of prayer is the most essential condition for fruitful action. Before all else, the disciple kneels down.”3
If you find yourself swept away by the busyness, chaos and distractions all around us, set aside time today to go into a quiet place and rest a little. Even if only for a few minutes, enter into stillness. If you need a prompt to focus your mind and spirit on the Lord, read a passage from the Gospels. I pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to you in that moment of stillness, and that you would find peace of soul.
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Mark 6:31 (Douay-Rheims).
Gianna Molla, pediatrician, wife and mother canonized in 2004 by John Paul II.