Leave your flocks
"Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened..." Luke 2:15
"Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary" Luke 10:41,42
It has been, if I can put it mildly, a difficult autumn for me. On the surface everything's looked just fine: pastor of a growing church, first little bits of the empty nest as my youngest moved three miles away into college dorms, three healthy, intelligent and witty adult children, a wife of 29 years who shares love, laughter, and tears with me, teaching opportunities beyond my local world, and much more. At a level, I've no reason to complain.
However, it's been an autumn that, even if everything had worked properly, had only the tiniest of margins. And everything didn't work properly. My aging mom has had some health problems down in California; a relative died down there unexpectedly, in her 50's, last month; there were car issues; the house needed painting; the cat had fleas and they started biting me too. There's more; much more, but it would bore you.
As a result, the tiny margins disappeared, those margins in which I was planning to meet God. In their absence, I took no steps to altar things so that I might discover the wonders of Jesus, being consciously with Him and discovering His invitations, receiving His healing, following His path. Unlike the shepherds of that first Christmas night, I've refused to leave my many cares in order to see the wonders of Bethlehem. I've been Martha, concerned about many things to such an extent that the cares crowded out Jesus.
You'd never know it, unless you knew me quite well, and even then, I might have fooled you. This is because I've been busy with God's things: preaching, teaching, writing spiritual entries for web sites and newspapers, doing weddings and funerals, spending time with people talking about God. But as honorable as all this looks, these activities can be just so many "sheep", flocks preoccupying me so that the invitation of the angels goes unheeded because I've "more important" things to do. Like Martha, I've multiple cares, in "God's Work" and in the "Real World", so that my many things crowd out the one thing that is genuinely necessary: sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning to love Him and receive His love. When this happens, I end up feeling hollow, tired, and isolated, even in the midst of all the people and activity. I sometimes feel that I talk because I have to say something rather than because I have something to say. This culminated in me coming home from recent travels and getting sick.
Then one night this past week, alone in the silence of my house (having shut off all media), I listened for the voice of Jesus and heard Him say to me: "I've missed you." The prayers and repentance which came from those moments have helped me recommit to leaving the flocks and the many cares so that I can once again sit at Jesus' feet. I don't think leaving the flocks means irresponsibility. It simply means priority. It means that being with Jesus, really meeting Him in some real sense, is the priority out from which all activity should flow. Often, we get it reversed: we set the agenda of our days and our lives, filling them with cares and flocks of all stripe, and then seek to touch base with God, asking God to bless it all, while promise to meet Jesus "in the margins", when we have time. It won't work. Trust me. I've tried.
God wants to love us, heal us, lighten our loads. We need to leave the flocks for a little while. We need to shut down the computer, turn off the wretched television, pull the buds out of our ears, and see the wondrous Lord of the universe. I've found, again and again, that these few moments away from flocks and cares are vital if there's to be genuine life, creativity, intimacy, joy, in my own life. Yes, this is Christmas - it's letting everything go for a little bit in order to encounter the source. Hopefully, we'll find what we've been missing and never let of of Him again.