August is a great time to assess one’s stress levels. In every walk of life, people find summer to be unreasonably hectic. In the early ‘60s, Nat King Cole famously crooned, “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.” For many, the “lazy” seems long gone, replaced by a double portion of “crazy”! The stressful days of summer may affect our prayer lives, leading us to take our eyes off of Christ and look only at the wind and waves trying to sink our walk.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus invites His work-weary disciples to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Their ministry had been such that they had no time even to eat. They were exhausted. The needs of the people, spiritual, mental, and physical, were great enough to take a toll on the disciples. He invited them to go to a deserted place and rest. We know that it did not fare well for those “workers in the vineyard” because the crowds watched them leave and simply followed them to their place of refuge. They had little time for themselves before the intensity of ministry took hold, and they again entered the fray, feeding and caring for the needs of others, fighting the war against the god of this world.
Jesus took the time to go off by Himself, early, before the day began, or in the evening when the work was finished, and He prayed. Before He selected the Twelve Apostles, St. Luke tells us that Jesus prayed through the night (Luke 6:12-13).
Stress may be overwhelming. The recent mass shootings, the unexpected loss of a child or loved one, the chaotic rumblings of the political scene, the insanity of society accepting peoples’ self-designations of gender, all add to the crazy days of summer in one’s mind and heart, drawing attention away from Christ.
The answer for those experiencing the “heat of the battle,” is to make time to get away from the front lines and breathe the Breath of God that is able to transform, strengthen, and hold us up.
The Blessing of Limitations
I was injured recently working on a farm tractor after pulling a large shaft attached to the round-baler. It was a pulled muscle that took all the fun out of walking, bending, and kneeling. In a visit to the chiropractor, during which he unceremoniously placed me on my side and jumped on top, he ordered me to do very little walking, moving, and bending. Then he ordered, “And don’t do any chores,” all of which I was happy to avoid. This left my spouse with the joy of tending to five newborn calves, their moms, horses, chickens, garden, etc. on her own. My walking was limited to a few steps and then back to bed with knees bent, propped up by a large pillow. However, the pain seemed less when I walked slowly in the garden. I would take a few steps, stop, and then walk again. I made my way to our small vineyard.
The grape vines needed tending. They were waist-high and I didn’t have to bend to prune the tips. As I stood, pulling new growth off the vigorous vines, I imagined being on retreat, at someone else’s ranch, and the mid-morning talk was completed. We were given an assignment to select an activity that would draw us into the Presence of God.
The back pain lessened as I spoke with the Lord. Practicing deep breathing while I gave light to the large clusters of grapes below opened a new door of prayer I had not experienced before. Scriptures related to vineyards popped into my head. I felt His Presence as I walked along, opening space for the grapes. At one point, my spouse chided me for not being in bed, until she realized something was happening.
A Retreat with Christ in Rest
“Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile,” Jesus said. In the rest, I found Him who loves me and gave Himself for me. In that time of rest, I found meaning in pain. I offered it up. My prayers, often quite specific, became a quiet discussion with my Lord, not heading in any particular direction. I opened myself up to His love, and He seemed to welcome my attempts at companionship with Him.
Praying and communing also opened doors in my spiritual journey. While praying, I remembered that I needed to find a part to the lawn sweeper that went missing a few days before. I asked St. Anthony to help, to pray for me to our Lord, that I would find it. Moments later I walked up to the missing part, hiding in the grass. Communing with the Lord helped me to lose the stress. I prayed through the stress to a place of serenity I had not known.
My imaginative “retreat” filled me with blessings. By slowing down, I righted my soul, took my mind off the wind and waves, and walked with Christ to the boat, determined that, in the future, I would find time to get away, even when I am not hurt.