“Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, 'I do will it. Be made clean.' And the leprosy left him immediately. The report about Him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to Him and to be cured of their ailments, but He would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” – Lk 5:16
In today's gospel we read about one of Jesus’ healing miracles, and as I was caught-up in the telling of this beautiful story I was surprised by a line that I hadn’t noticed before: "…but He would withdraw to deserted places to pray". I suppose I knew that Jesus regularly left what He was doing and who He was with for extended time in prayer, but it never meant anything to me until this past Christmas season. The whole month felt like a marathon, and I was the over-caffeinated, half-coherent runner stumbling toward the New Year finish line. Yes, there were things to do, people to see, places to go, and even a promotional opportunity at work, but in my exhaustion, I just stopped feeling myself.
I brought this to prayer and what came to me was one word – restlessness. It has been and still is my biggest obstacle on the spiritual journey. I often wrestle with an unquenchable longing to do, see, and experience more; in the allure of to do lists, goal lists, and bucket lists; in keeping-up with the highlight reel of social media and trying to please everyone. I forget about faith, and instead find myself acting on a fear that I'm somehow missing out on life, and that part of my self-worth is tied to being liked and admired. I begin to lose my focus, and then I lose myself. Restlessness and ego become my guides, and like a cup of coffee, I clung to them as I raced through the holidays. The more I drank, the more it seemed like I could do everything, see everyone, and accomplish anything. My body felt so alive, but my soul was on empty, and so the mirage faded into burnout.
This past month reminded me in a deep and intentional way to the path He calls me to – a life not found in the throes of restlessness and ego, of striving and doing, but in the gentle peace of His presence. It is in this place of faith, gratitude, and simplicity that I feel most me, and that I remember the words of St. Augustine, “our heart is restless until it rests in Him”. Today I took a moment and prayed: Jesus, it is you who gives me the bread of life, but I offer You only crumbs. Help me to know that life is in every breath and peace is in every step. Remind me of the beauty that on this side of eternity, “all symphonies must remain unfinished” (Karl Rahner). And, in your infinite compassion, please guide me to those deserted places so that we may pray.
How does God sustain you amidst the busyness of life? In this new year, do you feel called to “withdraw” more for time in prayer and rest? Lastly, as Jesus had His “deserted places”, what are some of yours?