I spent last week in Arizona for a short vacation. It was a needed and welcome break from winter – highs in the low 70s with cloudless skies and stunning sunrises dancing over the mountains and across the valleys.
A journey deep into the 25,000 acres of Fort McDowell Indian Reservation outside of Phoenix introduced the mysterious beauty of the desert. Outside of Sedona, on the way to Indian ruins of a civilization thriving nearly 1,000 years ago, I enjoyed vistas more breathtaking than could ever be approximated by the blockbuster movie “Avatar” – even in 3-D!
I half wish I could say the troubles and concerns of the world did not follow me there.
Yet the Haiti crisis was unfolding through the news and, as often happens, my thoughts were challenged by the incomprehensible suffering of others while I lingered in pleasant surroundings and company.
We cannot vacation our way through life. Somebody somewhere is sitting in darkness and misery. But we cannot spend every moment of our lives at full throttle offering compassion and care. What are we to do?
The principle of the Sabbath is our key. Work hard 85 percent of your time. Spend the other 15 percent in some form of spiritual rest and renewal. Offering this 15 percent in daily, weekly and annual installments is essential for sane and effective labor the other 85 percent.
The mystics understood their retreat from the world as appropriate preparation to re-enter it with greater creativity and energy. Time away is not time for guilt about all that is not being done. I think that is what Jesus was trying to say in his often misunderstood comment about “the poor always being with you.” It is not an excuse for never caring for them. It is permission to take a break from your direct care for their needs for the purpose of restoration.
Be assured, there are more needs around us than we ever have time to manage or address. They will be there when we rise, when we rest, when we need to escape and when we are ready to re-engage. Because of their relentless presence, we not only become overwhelmed by them, but are tempted to believe that our comparatively small efforts don’t really matter.
Life is about balance. We must eat, but we should not overeat. We must work, but we should not become compulsive about our work. We must rest, but we should not falter into complacent laziness. We must care, but we cannot rescue everybody. We must get busy and do something, but sometimes all we can do is watch the rising sun and say, “Help me, God. Help me to help you help the world.”
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.