“And [Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits... So, they went out...they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them...The apostles returned...and [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves... Now many saw them going...and they ran there on foot...and got there ahead of them” (Mark 6:7, 12, 13, 30-33, ESV).
Mark's gospel describes Jesus calling the apostles to himself, sending them out on a mission, and giving them the authority to accomplish what he had instructed. In addition to casting out demons, their work included healing the sick. Healing not just a few, but many.
When the disciples returned, they told him all they had done and taught. Jesus responded, “Come away...by yourselves...to a desolate place...rest a while” (Mark 6:31, ESV).
Jesus' invitation to rest—which in the Greek means cessation of movement or labor to recover and collect strength (ESV Strong's Bible)—speaks volumes about the exhaustion that can overwhelm those engaged in the work of healing. Over time, burdens accumulate—unresolved grief, unrelieved fatigue, or unrelenting concerns about those in our care become heavy to carry. In addition, the pressure of always having more to do, but never quite getting to it, takes its toll. Like the disciples, nurses often have no leisure, even to eat. The urgency of caring for the suffering can make taking care of ourselves seem selfish and small by comparison. So, we skip our lunch break. We work for hours without using the rest room; we neglect our basic needs. Thus, we ignore the signs of burnout.
Even though Jesus commissioned and equipped the disciples to heal the sick, he recognized their human limitations; when they had done their work, he called them to rest. Jesus invited the 12 to come away to a desolate place. The Greek defines desolate as “a lonesome, solitary wilderness” (Blue Letter Bible). Jesus himself often went to a lonely place to pray, rising early and separating himself from others. Desolate places are where the clamor to alleviate human suffering is muted by the still, small voice that can be heard in communion with God. This is where restoration and strengthening take place.
The Scripture doesn't say for how long the disciples sailed to reach the desolate place, but we know that by the time they arrived, a crowd awaited them there. So much for a quiet retreat!
Could it be that the boat itself was the desolate place? Maybe it was a vessel like those that had once been the workplace of the former fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Now, accompanied by Jesus, this past workplace became the setting where deep rest occurred.
It was not the setting that renewed them, however–not the wind in their hair nor the boat's rhythmic bobbing on the water. No, refreshment flowed from the very presence of God–Emmanuel–with them, and it took place on the way to somewhere else.
Sometimes getting away to our happy place helps to better equip us to handle the demands we face, but it's not everything. Sometimes we can't just get away, and the needs are far deeper. Remember that our source of strength and renewal is found in Jesus, our resting place.
QUESTIONS FOR NURSES TO CONSIDER
- What are signs that you need to rest a while?
- How can you as a nurse balance the call to minister to the sick with the need to remain healthy yourself?
- What practices are most useful to quiet your mind and heart to better hear Jesus speak? Do you need to observe these more often?
- Explain how it is possible for a workplace to be a “desolate place,” yet where it's possible to hear Jesus speak.
- In light of Mark 6, what can we do when we cannot get away to recover and restore our strength? How can we experience Jesus' presence on where we are?
- How does Scripture help you find a desolate place?