Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
—Mark 6:31, NIV
Growing up, I remember the season of Lent as one of reflection and contemplation. Somewhere in young adulthood, the season lost its peacefulness for me. Deep reflection was replaced with rotating shifts in the hospital, a graduate degree, and the beginning of a career in academia.
Approaching middle age has not allowed the space I anticipated. Instead of pockets of time for repentance and communion, I am (often happily) chasing four daughters through childhood, attempting to find a balance between my roles as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, nurse, teacher, and friend.
Instead of using time to engage with God, I will flip my calendar to the next month, filled with more responsibilities than the one before. I oscillate between persistence and guilt, unsure of my next step in the race set before me.
In my search for answers, I came across familiar stories in the gospels. Though I’ve heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand more times than I can count, something new struck me this time around. At the beginning and the end of this passage, Jesus leaves the crowd to pray, and encourages his disciples to do the same thing.
While the miracle in this story may lie in the abundance of food, I think the far more important piece of this passage is Jesus’ retreat. On either side of important events, Jesus knew he needed to rest, pray, and commune with God. A similar story occurs before Jesus chooses his disciples (Luke 6:12) and in the Garden of Gesthsemane prior to the crucifixion (Matthew 26:36).
In our house, the kitchen is the hub of activity and chaos. This is no surprise: I calculated that I prepare 126 meals each week (not even including snacks!). There are school papers haphazard across the counter, dishes piled high in the sink, and a trail of Cheerios following the path of the small child who can “do it myself!”
And while I’m not feeding five thousand (though it may feel like it from time to time), the reminder to retreat before the miracle was especially poignant. Before entering the countless demands of the day, taking a moment to welcome God into our chaos might serve my family far better than simply charging forward as the woman who can’t see past the dirty stove.
The parallels in this passage don’t end in the kitchen. While the world demands our attention, our hearts are drawn towards our relationship with God. Through the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to retreat, reflect, and work to maintain peace, which passes understanding, no matter our circumstance. As I march forward in life, I’m often unclear of the next right thing, whether that’s five minutes in front of me, or five years down the road. Spending time in reflection might just give me the opportunity to gain the mental and spiritual clarity I need to follow God’s trajectory on my family’s path through life.
This moment of pause goes against the message of our production-obsessed culture. If we aren’t working hard, striving forward, or meeting our goals with each minute of the day, we are quick to feel stagnant or unworthy. In Lent, I’m working to change my lens to see these moments of pause as a necessity before charging ahead into the unknown.
A simple shift in perception grants us the opportunity to truly hear God’s voice. This time of communion opens us up to the chance of discerning direction, instead of perpetually taking step after step through the chaos of everyday life. While the world may tell us that time idol is wasted, Jesus’ life certainly shows us just the opposite.
The vital importance of filling our cups with God’s grace before facing the world is just as valid today as it was two thousand years ago.
Retreating into God’s presence always precedes a miracle.