Today’s Gospel that we just heard, has practical lessons about work and rest for our daily living. The apostles had just returned from their hectic apostolic mission and were reporting to Jesus what they had done. But, the crowds were so demanding and insistent that the apostles did not even have time to eat. Jesus saw how tired they were and told them, “You must come away to some lonely place for some rest.”
“You must come away to some lonely place for some rest.” I think it may be good for us to reflect on Jesus’ advice on our need for “rest.” In a first world country like Singapore, there is a great danger for us to over work. We are pushed to excel even from childhood. So, when we grow up we get so caught up with work that we can easily forget how to rest. Our motives of working very hard must be clear. If it is because our boss is pushing us to meet targets or else we will lose our job, then we have very little choice unless we want to look for another job. But, if we have a choice, then we should really ask ourselves why we are we pushing ourselves so hard in our work?
If our labours are just for our self-glory or for some excess financial gains, then we are wasting our precious time and energy; such ways of pushing ourselves would lead never give us fulfillment and happiness in life, but may on the contrary lead to a burnt out. However, if we are working very hard for the good and the needs of others, then such hard work are not really work, but necessary sacrifices that are Christ-like.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus and His Apostles crossed to the other side of the lake for some rest, they found that the huge crowd had gathered to look for them as they were desperate; they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” So, instead of resting, Jesus filled with compassion “set Himself to teach them at length.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is also reminding us to have a balanced life. By all means we should work hard, but we should also find some time for rest so that we can become more re-charged for work and to care for our families. Rest is not a negative waste of time, but a positive time of rejuvenation of our bodies, emotions, mind and spirit.
By “rest” I do not mean that we just sit in front of our Television and watch trash, but to spend quality time with our family, friends and even to do some good work for the needs of others, that is outside our normal daily routine of office or house work. By “rest” I also mean that we should spend some quality time of silence and solitude with God in prayer. There are so many wholesome ways of recharging our tired minds, emotions and bodies.
Any quiet time spent with God in just listening to Him would be time well spent. God too wants to speak to us and be involved in our daily living, but, if we are not able to withdraw from our work and become still and silent for some moments to be with Him each day, then God cannot renew us with His strength. We would be working on our own steam and relying on our own human strength which we all know can be drained easily. If we are not careful, our physically drained bodies can draw us into a state of emotional depression and worse still spiritual desolation where we feel God has abandoned us.
Our aim at a target with our bow and arrow is of no use, unless we pull the string of the bow as far backwards as we can to shoot the arrow. This withdrawal is a “positive” act because it harnesses the strength and energy needed for the arrow to shoot at the target. Likewise, if we “rest” we have to be clear of how we want to be renewed through the rest. I do not believe in wasting time. Wasting time is not having any awareness of what we are doing in our resting time. This would be like pulling the string of the bow to shoot an arrow without any target.
I believe God wants us to use the gift of time that He gives us daily, fruitfully and meaningfully. The gift of time is not meant to be squandered on useless activities that will not help us to grow into a more wholesome and better person. Time is precious. Spend some time today to look back on your life. In looking back on the last 5 to 10 or 15 years of your life, do you think God would be happy with how you have lived your life?
Would God say to us, “My son and daughter, I see that you have done so many things in your life, but actually 70% of what you have done did not help you or others become better persons or your busyness did not help you to love your family or more importantly to love me more fully?”
Or would Our Lord tell us, “My son and daughter, I am so very happy with how you have used the gift of time, talent and blessings that I have given you all these years . . . you have really loved and worked so hard to provide for your family, you have even spent much time to care for the poor and needy, and have also given me your precious time in prayer . . . just listening to me . . . and you have participated in the Eucharistic celebrations actively and the like.” Which of these two descriptions do you think would be closer to what God would say to you if He were to appear to you today and speak to you about your life?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the starting point of how we can live a more wholesome life and become a better Christian is to ask ourselves, “How can I love God more fully.” I strongly believe that the clearer we are about how much we love God, the greater would be our chances of growing in His love. And the more we grow in our love for our Lord, the less preoccupied we would be about working for the wrong motives of self-glory in life. The more we grow in our love of our Lord the more discerning our life would also become.
To live a more discerning life is to live a life that senses how God is inseparably part of all our experiences. If are the last to rush into Mass every Sunday and the first to scamper off immediately at the final blessing, if we yell at our traffic wardens in our car parks and get irritated at the smallest remark that we don’t like, or if we find ourselves frequently fighting for our rights and not trying to find a win-win situations when problems arises, if our need to show compassion for the poor and needy, but this is often pushed aside by excuses to soothe our consciences, then these are signs that we are probably not only over worked and over-stressed with life, but perhaps, our love for our Lord is not deeply rooted enough in our hearts.
Hard work with the right motives of serving the good of others and more importantly out of love for God should make us more patient, less self-righteous and more humble. These are signs of the presence of God’s Spirit within us. If we see smoke, there is fire somewhere. If we are constantly irritable, overly judgmental and angry at others, then most probably our lives are not yet integrated enough with our Lord, and our love for Him is still lukewarm.
My sisters and brothers, as I draw this reflection to a close, let us remind ourselves that Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging us to take note of the importance of working hard for the right motives of serving the good of others and our love for Him, and not for our self-glory. While it is important that we live a balanced life of hard work and rest, yet if situations of the greater good of others make demands on us, then our compassion for their needs should challenge us to be more selfless, like Christ in the Gospel.
Whatever happens to us in our lives, we must always make time to nurture our faith in God through spending quite times in prayer just to be with Him and just to listen to what He has to say to us daily. And it is in listening to the Spirit of Jesus within us daily that we will be able to live a more discerning life that is focused on serving Him and living for Him, for His greater glory.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.