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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Withdrawal

September is a funny season. Particularly for those of us whose lives are governed by the academic year and by school terms. It the season of post-holiday blues, the sudden return to normality after a break that is rudely accompanied – more often than not - by a whole barrage of questions about what exactly we’re meant to be doing, and how we’re meant to do it.

Hamish and I returned from a week in the Alps late on Saturday evening: a beautiful week soaking in God’s good creation, eating far too many French pastries and walking for miles and miles in the hills and valleys. The return to normality was swift and painful on Sunday morning when we walked into our church. I love our church family. I love the messiness and the noise and the chaos of a church that is full of children, the honesty and frankness of people who don't try to cover up what's really going on. But on Sunday morning I couldn’t cope with it. I couldn’t cope with the need and the noise, with the clamouring for attention, the urgency of people’s requests for help, the brokenness and pain of the lives of people I love deeply. 


My (shamefully) immediate reaction was I don’t like anyone here. I don’t know how to disciple them. I don’t know how to love them, or share the good news of Jesus with them. There are too many. The need is too great. All I want to do is run away. 

I didn’t run away – although I was tempted. Instead, I proceeded to be very grumpy and rude to my husband and cross at everyone and everything.

Whilst we were on holiday, I read John Eldridge’s Beautiful Outlaw, a series of short reflections about the personality of Jesus. Eldridge writes beautifully about many facets of Jesus’ character but what remained with me was the insistence about Jesus’ humanity: Jesus is not God pretending to be human. He is fully human. He takes on all that it is to be flesh and blood and walk about exposed to the mess of planet earth and its people. 

I think that this means that Jesus fully understands the feeling that I had on Sunday morning. In his experiencing of that emotion Jesus, unlike me, does not sin. He does not give in to frustration and despair. He does not become suddenly irrational and irritable with those who love him. But he does know what it is to be overwhelmed. He knows what it is to need to run away. And he does.

Several times in the gospel, Jesus is seen to deliberately withdraw. Without fuss and without kicking and screaming (again unlike me) he extracts himself from the crowds and slips away to spend time with his Father. Eldridge draws particular attention to Jesus’ reaction to the death of his cousin John:

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.” (Matthew 14:13-14)

Jesus knows when he needs time with God the Father. He knows when he is at the end of himself. He knows that, in his fragile humanity, he does not have the resources to keep going without being refreshed and by the One who keeps him going. In this particular incident, Jesus only manages to snatch a few minutes. He has planned to head by boat to a place to be alone but, by the time he reaches the shore, the solitary place is populated by a hungry and desperate crowd. His withdrawal lasts only for the crossing of the lake but it is enough to mean that he can view this crowd with compassion. He can heal them and meet their needs.

There is a lesson here for me that, in over a decade of following Jesus, I still struggle to learn: my response to need and urgency, to busyness and an ever-expanding to do list, must be to withdraw. If Jesus, Son of God, Creator King of the universe, could only do what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19), and could only satisfy the needs of those who came to him in the power of the Spirit, then I must follow in his footsteps.

September is always a season of too much to do, too much to think about, too many people to try and catch up with and love and listen to. And yet, the example of our King is clear: withdraw. Remind yourself of your inability. Remind yourself of your weakness. Embrace the truth that you can do nothing without Him - and He doesn’t want you to. Our King craves our dependence on him. He urges us to withdraw.

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