Who doesn’t enjoy a retreat? A brief moment, away, where one can immerse oneself in a specific project or task. Or, even better, one can immerse oneself in a break from projects or tasks, take a moment to rest and renew — to “fire on all cylinders,” so to speak.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” -Mark 6:31
The calendar has changed: we’ve moved from Advent to Christmastide. (Merry Christmas, by the way.) For spiritual, secular, and non-religious folks here in North America, we’re in that awkward undefined time between Christmas and New Year’s — some of us are on time off, others of us are working different hours. The Christmas peak has been realized, yet the secondary and slightly-lower New Year’s peak still faces us as we climb.
It’s a perfect time for a retreat. Even if just for a few minutes. Especially if you think you’re too busy.
One of the stories I love in the Gospels is the parable of the Feeding of the 5,000 or the story of the five loaves and two fish. One of the stories told in all four Gospels, we find Jesus and his disciples seeking a time of retreat. They hadn’t even a time to eat, and so Jesus was taking the group away for some rest.
Who hasn’t had the experience of planning a time of rest that gets overwhelmed by the myriad other things in life? Even as they sought to withdraw, the thousands of people followed Jesus and his disciples to their place away, bringing all their demands on the time and resources of this rag-tag group — and ratcheting up the expectations of hospitality, care, and nurture from among the disciples.
The disciples, saints that they were, sought to dismiss the people to care for themselves. After all, this was supposed to be a restful retreat, right? You can hear the most jaded of disciples thinking, Can’t a fella ever catch a break? Get out of here! (To be fair, you can probably hear even the most committed disciples thinking the same thing.)
Instead, Jesus arranges a divine potluck: collecting seemingly scarce resources and transforming them into divine abundance. From a handful of fish and bread, Jesus demonstrates for the people and his disciples that there is always enough — and more! — to share.
And then, they retreat.
What strikes me in the story is its efficiency. Jesus continues to honor the boundary of rest and renewal — not once, in any of the Gospels, does he abandon taking time away for rest. No, “ope, the demands stay high, so let’s give the people what they want and move on to the next task.” No pity-party about how darn busy he is, no faux-humility or humblebrags about how essential he is to the operation.
He equips the people with sufficiency in abundance. He doesn’t lean into over-functioning, arranging the logistics of transportation or sending the people away just to return in greater neediness. He doesn’t fret. He simply responds to the need and then still claims the boundary to retreat.
Exhaustion and burnout are preventable diseases.
Jesus knew this. He modeled this. And if you, dear pastor, find yourself “busy” or “essential” to the point of burnout: get right with your Creator.
Now is the time for retreat, whatever that best looks like for you.
For me, it’s making space for my partner and family-of-choice. It’s time in a place away from the demands of both regular life and the details of family holidays.
It’s big, hot mugs of my favorite coffee. Delicious novels in comfy chairs next to fireplaces. Making art from wood and textile. Swapping stories and sharing laughter with people who’ve become family-by-choice, who sometimes know me even better than I know myself and love me precisely for that very reason.
After a few days, I’ll get on an airplane and return to the home of my everyday life. My partner and I will settle back into our routines. We’ll go back to work, finding all the same tasks completed and undone as we had left them. There will be voicemails to respond to on the telephone, emails in the inbox, and letters and parcels to pick up at the post office.
Soon, it will be time to retreat again. And we will. Even though there will still be work that could be done.