Homily: We Don’t Know How to Rest
I am a recent convert to the world of the smart-phone. Well, I guess I had more of a re-conversion. I had dabbled in smart phones previously, but I never really embraced it so I found myself only using the technology to watch the Cleveland Indians and play stupid games- which I wasn’t even good at. In an act of rebellion, I got ahold of the dumbest phone I could find, one barely capable of texting and calling, and switched over to that. The employee at the Verizon store was personally offended when I requested to switch. He begged me not to make such a terrible life decision.
Immediately, I found myself, for the first time in over a year, free from the oppression of that world. It lasted until a month ago when, just before my ordination and all the new responsibility that comes with it, I finally broke down. I guess people need to be able to call and text me. I am a slightly more mature person than I was five years ago, and I am also putting in the time to make the technology work for me, not against me.
Yet inevitably, the iPhone presents the same temptation as before: the temptation to be busy. When I have my phone by my side, accomplishing a task is always within my immediate grasp. Sending a text or email, paying a bill, buying an alarm clock to replace the one I forgot at seminary. Yet inevitably, when I go to actually accomplish that task, I usually fail because the second I see that bright, beautiful screen, I forget what I wanted to do. Then I do something entirely different- which usually does not involve accomplishing a task- and put my phone back in my pocket.
Much of my time is spent battling that amazing device, and perhaps I am making progress, but it is always there, calling out to me to “stay connected.” I don’t know how many of you even have that particular struggle, I think we millennials are particularly prone to it because we have been acclimated to it for so long and we are proficient. Yet regardless, I do think the smart phone is a microcosm of the world today. The modern world has a million other ways to keep us busy, to help us accomplish a million tasks without ever getting anything done. We are so informed and so connected, and always working.
I also think the struggle I have with my smartphone is a good analogy for the spiritual life, and it certainly isn’t a new struggle because Jesus speaks to something very similar in the gospel we have today.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Today, we don’t know how to rest well. I don’t mean we need less activity, because rest is not the same as inactivity. In fact, rest can be extremely strenuous and this might be what Jesus is talking about because he follows by saying, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” In case you are unfamiliar with the traditional yoke, it is an arched piece of wood or metal you put on an ox or horse to pull a plow. And the way they would go about it in the ancient world was to have a double yoke under which they would put an older experienced animal by the side of a younger inexperienced animal and the young would learn from the old.
So, Jesus is calling us to come to him to learn how to rest and rest. Yet, why is it even important for us to set a portion of our day, of our week, apart from work, from business? Primarily because God speaks in the silence. When the prophet Elijah goes up the mountain to speak with the Lord, there is an earthquake, a fire, and a giant windstorm, and God was nowhere in the storms. Then followed a still, small voice, which was the Lord. How can we ever hear the still small voice of our God if we are too busy listening to loud, angry talking heads on our television?
As I said, this desire we have for distraction, for feverish activity without rest is not new. A philosopher in the early 17th century named Blaise Pascal wrote that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This bears repeating… // What a bold statement- all of our problems stem from this basic problem! Pascal was saying this 400 years ago, when they didn’t have giant HD televisions, smartphones or video games. But that didn’t matter, the entertainment they had was sufficient because we want to be distracted.
What is it about sitting quietly in a room alone that terrifies us? For me, when I sit in silence each morning and evening, the first thing that come to mind are all the ways in which I failed that day- the time I wasted (probably on my phone), the people I hurt, the people I failed to serve, and all the ways those I love are suffering.
When we sit in silence, we must confront who we really are- our real self with the façade and superficiality of everyday life stripped away- that is a terrifying thing. Yet, if we can endure it for only a moment, we will realize that God is right there, waiting to tell us that he loves us despite all those shortfalls, that he forgives all our sins, and that he wants to heal us of all our wounds. My first year of seminary I wasn’t allowed to have phones, internet, TV, newspapers, or any form of media. Let me tell you, there were many nights I spent quietly in my room alone wishing I was in anyone’s company but my own. Yet whenever I had the courage to face the reality of my own inadequacy and reach out to God, I found he was already there sustaining me, giving me the grace to face the moment.
Then let us have courage to rest with our God. First, to carve out time for the most important rest- our prayer. If we can find time to pray, to sit quietly in a room with God as our only companion, it will give direction and meaning to every other activity of our day- both work and rest. I know it is tough to find time in your crazy lives for prayer- but that is the point! The busier we are, the more we need rest.
If we try to face the burdens of this world alone, we will find the burden only grows heavier and more difficult with time. If we avail ourselves to God and commit to make time daily for prayer and rest, we will come to really know the love He has for us. This love is what gives us the strength to accept ourselves for who we really are, after which- and only after this- we can begin to grow spiritually.
Break from whatever distracts you, whatever keeps you busy, and enter into the rest of God. Take Jesus yoke upon you, for he says, “My yoke is easy and my burden light”