Vacations are times in our lives when many memories are made, either because of the company we keep, the destination we visit, the unplanned events we deal with, or probably a combination of all three. But for so many of us, vacations leave us more exhausted than before we left. Why is that?
It could be that we exchange one frenetic schedule for another. It could also be that our vacation schedules are dictated by “running away” rather than “coming away.” We all know that life gives us a burden that becomes heavy, and we become weary of it after a while. Who wouldn’t grab the soonest opportunity to escape the crushing weight of life’s circumstances in exchange for something more pleasant? This is a “running away.” A “coming away” is not an escape or any exchange, but rather a temporary respite from the weariness of those circumstances in order to continue carrying them. Am I just splitting hairs here?
Many of you probably experience what John Michael Talbot describes in his book, “The Lessons of St. Francis,” as a “life that is more like a kitchen blender, with its engine humming and blades purring, its motion making a puree of the elements of our fast-paced, turbulent lives.” My hunch is that the apostles in today’s Gospel knew this feeling. I know that I’m quite familiar with it, and I bet you are, too! Jesus gives a suggestion that can be troublesome for many self-made Americans: He says, “Rest a while.” But there’s so much to do!
Years ago, when I was working at a parish, we had the opportunity to have a staff retreat for the day. We went to a local hermitage retreat center where everyone was given their own private hermitage on the property’s 250 wooded acres to rest and reflect for the day in silence and solitude. We arrived in the morning, and the only thing on the schedule was a meeting together before the day’s end. When we gathered before departing, a coworker said something that I remember to this day: “I was scared to be alone with all that time and nothing to do.”
What terrified her that day was the thought of what she might have found within herself once she could no longer run away from what she had long been running away from. The hustle of today’s life has robbed us of a most elusive and inexhaustible treasure of human of activity: solitude and silence. Jesus invites us not just to “come away” but also to leave behind all the burdens of life, to enter into that “deserted place” where we can repose in verdant pastures and restful waters, to be refreshed in body and soul (cf Ps 23:2).
Just imagine what life could be like if our soul could find frequent respite likened to scenes such as a placid lake glimmering with the morning mist, the serenity of a mountain vista at sunset, the calm of a single candle flickering in an empty chapel. Imagine how our interactions with other people could be if those familiar interior storms made less frequent visits? What could our relationships feel like if we operated from a position of interior tranquility instead of “pureed” turmoil?
While vacations are important, regularly retreating into solitude (scheduling time to visit an Adoration chapel, disciplining yourself to unplug from social media and digital technology, maintaining a routine of self-care, exercise, journaling, meditation, etc.) is even more so because of what can be found or rediscovered: your authentic self … the person that God intended you to become … the person that you’d rather show to others. So rest! And be reminded of who are you and how you ought to act. The world and the responsibilities of life are waiting. How shall you engage them?
Br. John Marmion Villa, M. Div.