I’m Closed Now

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Jesus is a publicist's nightmare. In the middle of his busy schedule (healing, teaching, and caring), with a lot of people clamoring for his attention ("and the whole town gathered at the door"), he withdraws—literally, withdraws—to a solitary place to pray.

His disciples, not understanding and genuinely put out, hunt him down. When they find him, they exclaim, "Jesus, what are you doing here . . . doing NOTHING?!? Do you want to be a good Messiah, or not? Get back down there! People are counting on you down there. What will people think? Jesus, we need to get you to a time-management seminar. You could accomplish so much more!" (Actually, that's all a slightly loose translation of Mark's Gospel.)

The literal translation sounds familiar, even to our modern ears, "Jesus, everyone is looking for you!" We've all heard some variation of this show of displeasure. Implying, "You have some nerve, saying NO."

This way of thinking leads to two temptations. One, we begin to think that we derive our worth and value from what we do or produce. Therefore, we are motivated to be indispensable. (Forgetting the reality that if we are indispensable, then we assume everyone we work with is irresponsible.)

Two, we begin to see resting on our Sabbath or withdrawing as wasteful, and therefore guilt producing. ("Shouldn't you be doing something worthwhile with your time?")

The disciples said, "Everyone is looking for you."

Like I said, Jesus needs a spin-doctor. Listen to his response: "Then let us go somewhere else."

Here's the bottom line: For Jesus, withdrawing is not optional. It is intentional and essential.

I give, relate, care, listen, and serve wholeheartedly if I am at home in my own skin. When I am in the hubbub of daily life and work, I can lose sight of that. I do so enjoy the adrenaline rush from being needed, and if I'm honest enough with myself, I recognize that adrenaline is addictive. I know that when I give in to the "should" of being all things to all people and when I give up the need to withdraw for rest and renewal, I lose the rhythm of life that feeds my soul.

In withdrawing, Jesus is saying to his disciples, "Do you see that clump of people? Do you know why I have any power in that clump? Because I regularly say NO, to withdraw to a place where I listen to a different voice—my Father's voice—about my identity."

I know from personal experience that if I don't say no, no will be said for me by default, and I will end up saying no to the people I love the most.

When Dwight Eisenhower was president, he stood at a meeting of the cabinet and said, "This meeting is adjourned."

"But Mr. President, there is still much work to be done. We need to extend the meeting."

"The meeting is adjourned because I promised my grandson I would play football with him at 3:30. It is 3:30."

"But Mr. President, some of this business cannot wait."

"Gentlemen, I can give you reasons why we are adjourning. I could never offer a good reason to my grandson why I would miss my commitment to play football."

We miss the point if we see this as a means to an end. I'll rest so that I'll be more productive when I return. I'll be rewarded. I'll benefit. As if we can manufacture meaning by how we orchestrate our lives.

We miss the point if we assume that the power of Sabbath is in the program or method. Whether we choose meditation, observing Shabbat, walking the dog, Centering Prayer, soaking in a hot bath, yoga, praying the Divine Hours, joining in Taize prayer, walking a labyrinth, or an afternoon napping in a hammock, it begins with this: it is enough to withdraw. The power of the story in the Gospel of Mark is the verb. Withdrew. There is nothing overtly spiritual or spectacular here. It is a sign on the door, "I'm closed now."

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Do you have trouble saying, "No"? Why?
  • What are some things in your life that you could let go in order to simplify and focus?
  • Do you ever become frustrated and impatient with God—like the disciples were?

Excerpt from The Power of Pause by Terry Hershey (Loyola Press, 2009). Reprinted with permission of Loyola Press.