That evening, at sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’
Sometimes I get eccentric. No, I don’t mean eccentric as in the millionaire who leaves everything to his cat, or like the hoarder who compulsively piles up old newspapers, or the recluse who lives all alone in the woods. No, I mean that sometimes I get eccentric in the root meaning of the word: I get “off center.” Rather than living my life from the center, I live from the periphery. Rather than being focused on the things in life that really matter, I let myself get distracted. I get out of whack.
We used to have a washing machine that was also prone to eccentricity. By that I mean, the washer would get off center. What a noisy racket it would make! We would hear a loud “wham…wham…wham…” from the wash room, and immediately know that the washer had gotten off kilter. Somehow the load shifted, got all bunched up to one side, and we would have to re-center the load. Things would have to be re-aligned.
More frequently than I like to admit, I let the load I carry get bunched up and off center. I can always know when I have become eccentric because that’s when I start worrying and hurrying, eating too much, feeling the pressure, and getting short tempered. I start focusing on the periphery rather than the center, and things get out of kilter.
But when I get off center, everything, and I mean everything, gets knocked out of perspective. I become compulsive and weighed down by things that don’t matter; things that are trivial start to loom large. That’s when the stress and the worry become a signal to me that it’s time to re-center. It’s time to get my life re-aligned.
We learn what it means to re-center from today’s text, where life has been hectic for Jesus on the periphery. The pressures have been piling up around Him. For approximately 16 hours on this Sabbath day Jesus has preached, listened, ministered, and healed late into the night. He is pressed by the crowds, and as Simon Peter says, everyone is searching for Him. Everyone wants time with Jesus, or wants something from Him. But Jesus remains calm, unbothered, centered throughout. He goes about His life and ministry without any worry, hurry, compulsion, or panic. How does Jesus do it?
In today’s text, as well as in other gospel texts, we see how Jesus does it: He goes out to a deserted place to pray. Jesus won’t allow the pressures to build up. He knows that He needs help. If He is going to pour out His life, He will also have to be spiritually refreshed. If He is always going to give to others, He will need time each day to take in. Jesus cannot accomplish all that He has to do each day in His own power. He also knows that He doesn’t have to.
Whenever I read this text I always think: If Jesus, the Son of God needed help, then how about you and me! Every day we face problems, decisions to make, business to take care of, conflict to work through. We face trouble and opportunities that call for more strength and wisdom than we can muster. But in prayer we can come to God like empty pitchers to a flowing fountain. In prayer we slip over from the periphery of life to its Center.
Our world, no less than Jesus’ world, is noisy and crowded. And just like Jesus, it’s difficult for us to find that deserted place without the distraction of the Internet, iPhones, text messages, television, radio, and people. But take it from one who knows: if we don’t take the time to get alone with God, life slips from the Center to the periphery, and all out of perspective.
Thomas Kelly, in his spiritual classic Testament of Devotion, testifies to the joy and power of life at the Center:
“Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time, And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.”
God, I need Thee,
When morning crowds the night away
And tasks of waking seize my mind;
I need Thy poise.
God, I need Thee
When love is hard to see
Amid the ugliness and slime;
I need Thy eyes.
God, I need Thee
When clashes come with those
Who walk the way with me;
I need Thy smile.
God I need Thee,
When the path to take before me lies
I see it…courage flies –
I need Thy faith.
God, I need Thee,
When the day’s work is done,
Tired, discouraged, wasted;
I need Thy rest.
(Howard Thurman, Deep Is The Hunger)
Grace and peace–Tim
Photo by Jeff and Meredith Purganan