Thursday, August 29th
Mark 6:30-32 (NRSV)
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
I was at a church potluck event enjoying dinner and friendship. Picking up a fresh strawberry, I opted not to bother cutting it and instead popped the whole thing into my mouth. The berry was firmer than I expected, so I was soon reminded that the space between my upper and lower teeth is much smaller than the space in the middle of my mouth! I could NOT get that strawberry between my teeth. I had literally taken “more than I could chew.” I endured a few embarrassing and uncomfortable moments before the strawberry softened enough to eat.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew” is a phrase that cautions us to keep from taking on more than we can handle. I think the problem for most of us is that we can’t accurately predict our breaking points. We don’t know at what point “enough” will exceed enough and become too much. In addition, many of us have such high expectations for ourselves, believing we can take on more responsibilities when we are already busy. And how many of us have even convinced ourselves with the faithful assurance that “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)? We are people of determination, perseverance, willingness, and a desire to be helpful. There may even be a sense of pride in our busyness and full schedules. “What’s one more thing?” we ask ourselves. “I can do this!”
“The strawberry doesn’t look THAT big.”
Until that breaking-point moment comes. We are running at full speed, efficiently managing every waking moment, holding everything in order with our capable hands- and then comes that one unexpected interruption. Our tightly-scheduled system falls apart… and so do we. “I don’t have time for this!”
As far as I can tell through reading the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t seem to be impressed with busyness. Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not a busy life. Abundant living isn’t about having filled schedules but well-lived days. Days in which we are productive but not stressed or overburdened. Days in which we have time to be present to the holy moments, the movements of the Spirit, the blessings we have been given, the people around us, and the resting places offered for our souls.
In our Bible passage, Jesus invited the disciples to rest. They were excited about all that they had done and taught. You can almost sense their pride and enthusiasm as they told Jesus about their accomplishments. Jesus recognized his need and their need for rest, especially after hearing the sad news about John the Baptist’s death. He told his friends to come away and rest for a while. But if we read on, we learn that once again they were interrupted as people came seeking help and hope. Perhaps allowing even this short time away helped to restore and replenish them.
Rather than discovering our limits in times of stress and overload, we benefit by being mindful of our choices in the first place. Let’s revisit the potluck and my strawberry for some ideas to help us be mindful of our schedules.
We only have one plate to fill. We only have one life to live- how do we fill this one life with the best choices? What are the things we hope to experience by the end of the line?
There is a long table full of options still ahead. If we take everything that is initially presented to us, we may have no remaining space for a wonderful choice that is offered further down the line. When we say “yes” to something good, we may be saying “no” to something better.
Our initial “gut” reactions can guide our choices. Even at first glance, some items look very appealing to us and some definitely do not. When we are offered something to consider, trust that initial gut feeling to serve as a guide. (I have found myself telling someone that I will consider the opportunity, when my gut immediately said, “No way!” Why waste time for both of us?)
We are not obligated to try something just to please the person who made it or recommended it. Our plates can only hold so much. We cannot please everyone who offers us an opportunity or choice. We need to honor our limited plate space.
We can always circle back to reconsider possibilities. Some of the options before us are intriguing, but we aren’t quite certain we will enjoy them. We can fill our plates first with the definite choices and then revisit other options if we have the space. “First things first.”
Our secondary choices might be someone else’s first choice- leave it for that person. There will be options that we would be happy to add to our plate, but perhaps someone else would enjoy them even more.
Some of our choices will be better in a different season. Is this the best season for strawberries (or commitments), or should we wait until the timing is better? On the other hand, are there things on our plate that are now out of season? Can we discard those to make room for fresh choices? What are the choices that are fresh and appealing for our current season of life?
We should consider whether a choice is worth the effort. Will we still enjoy this choice if it involves more work than we anticipate? (I have passed up different foods simply because I didn’t want to bother getting a spoon or juggling an extra plate.)
We may be able to cut our portion size to ensure room for other things. Can we divide the berry (or the responsibility) into bite-sized portions? Do we need to eat the whole strawberry all at once, or can we eat it slowly over a longer period? Is there someone who will enjoy sharing the work- and the fruit?
If we are patient, we may find the best has been saved for the last. I was going through the potluck line with a vegetarian friend who was also passing by the hot dogs and hamburgers. As we kept moving down the line with empty plates, he told me that he has learned to be patient, because there is always plenty of the best and most delicious foods toward the end of the line. He was right.
If we are discerning with each option and opportunity that comes to us, we will fill our plates and our lives wisely and well. Isn’t it delightful to have plates and lives that are full but not overflowing, that are filled with our best choices, and that have a little extra space for that unexpected treat coming our way? Isn’t it joyful to have plenty of time to chat, to relax, to be present, and to savor every bite and every day abundantly?
See you tomorrow!