In my late 20’s, while in graduate school to become a psychotherapist, I worked in an outpatient mental health clinic to practice the theory and techniques I learned in the classroom.
I still remember my first client. After meeting with her several times, I scheduled a time with my clinical training supervisor to process my experience.
“I feel I need to know so much more even to begin working with this struggling woman,” I said.
The wise supervisor responded, “Sometimes years of book learning and experience are more than made up by young therapists with enthusiasm and compassion.” She gave me a positive way of looking at my experiences I had not considered.
I recount her words as I read today’s Gospel. The Apostles, earlier in this chapter in Mark’s Gospel, had been sent to their “training sites” after receiving instructions from Jesus. Returning, they reported “all they had done and taught.” As a good supervisor he responded, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
In that deserted place I imagine Jesus wanted them to gain perspective on what they had just witnessed in their ministries and to let their minds and bodies rest, to be restored so they would be open to seeing things in a fresh light.
There will never be enough hours in a day or years in one’s life to address all the pressing needs of people we hold dear as well as the lost and forgotten who ask for help. Just like the crowds who pressed the Apostles as they tried to get away, by boat, to a deserted place, the cries for help are unending.
During this world-wide pandemic, we look around to see the sick, the grieving, the unemployed, emotionally distraught, addicted, homeless and hungry trying to survive and to heal.
We, as twenty-first century apostles, are, in our unique ways, called by Christ to respond.
To understand exactly what the Lord wants from each of us we must go away to a deserted place, even if it is in our room with the door closed. The discipline of stepping back is as essential to our life with Christ as the discipline of ongoing clinical supervision for even the most seasoned psychotherapist. We all have blind spots and can easily lose our way. Reflection, prayer, rest, a second opinion regarding our decisions…perhaps from a regular spiritual director…are all necessary to grow in our awareness of God’s will for us.
It is easy, whether we are optometrists, teachers, health and mental health care workers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, farmers, parents, spouses, students, priests, lawyers, housekeepers, restaurant workers, religious, grave diggers or sanitary workers, to get stuck in a rut, to lose perspective and develop soul-deadening routines.
Going away to a deserted place each day is the antidote Jesus prescribes today, even if the effort is sometimes sabotaged by the cries of the needy crowd around us. Sitting with the Lord in quiet reflection and speaking to the Lord from the deepest parts of our hearts will give us what we need to face our responsibilities afresh and with the grace needed to be joyful and hopeful, even in our limitations.
The Lord is waiting for us to get in the boat and sail with on quiet water. Will you accept the invitation today?
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.