As the days grow shorter and the temperatures cool, we sense the shift in the air. The world is turning at a different angle than before. The light shines at a slant through the trees. Things are changing. Suddenly, leaves begin to pop with color from the canvas of front yards and roadsides. Yellow daisies proudly stand to speckle the otherwise brown and gray of ditches and backwaters. It is the last long yawn of a hard-fought year. What a kindness from the Lord that even the dying of the world can be granted such beauty.
Yet, during this time of beauty, I find that I tend to drift. Maybe you do, too. It is easy for me to become distracted by the busyness of my calendar at the end of the year. Many of these things are wonderful and worthy of my attention. There are travel itineraries to solidify, parties to prepare for, and presents to purchase. Schedules swiftly fill to overflowing as people plan and dates fill in. The world often becomes a bustling wonder that thrills our hearts.
Some years, however, things are different. In the face of difficulty, disease, and death, things can take a different tone. Life can lose its color. Rather than being distracted by the good things our calendars hold, we must face the hard realities of life in this broken world. The past two years have brought this sentiment to many of us. And though the difference between these two outlooks is stark, there is the underlying reality that both harbor distractions for us.
As I look to the Scriptures, I find that Jesus often did something peculiar. Mark’s gospel is one of intense movement and little dialogue. There is a determination in the Savior’s schedule, a resolve to accomplish the work before him, “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Mk 10:45, NIV). However, towards the end of the first chapter there is a brief vignette, a wondrous window into our Savior’s soul. Mark 1:35 (NIV) reads, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
Jesus was not exempt from life in a busy world. He grew weary and worn. He was hungry and haggard. He got dirty, thirsty, and sweaty. Amid his days of healing the hurting, feeding the hungry, and teaching the host of crowds that followed him, he faced such bustle and burden with tempered balance, a balance he maintained by being alone often with his Father. Jesus needed silence, solitude. As such, the Savior struck out early in the morning and late in the evening. He went up on mountains and off in the desert. And then, Jesus went to meet the world’s needs, ultimately dying in the place of all who would believe in him. Jesus removed himself frequently from the busyness and burdens of the world for the sake of the world.
Thus, I “go dark” during the month of November. In order to remove excess distractions from my life so that I can focus on my relationship with Jesus Christ and with others, I cut out social media, reduce my intake of daily news, and attempt to stay away from electronics apart from necessary work. In the place of these, I try to fill those empty hours with time in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and investing in others. I have found that this fosters within me a deeper gratitude during this season of thanks, and a greater longing to receive the wonder of the gospel all over again during the Advent season and Christmas.
I do not do this because I am holier than you. I do not do this because I am better than you. I do this because I just might be more distracted than you, though I feel confident we are likely on the same page. I do this because I need to be reminded of the gospel often. I invite you to consider this. Perhaps you do not find yourself distracted by the internet, television, or entertainment. Maybe there is something else in your life that distracts you from Jesus and others. I invite you to remove that this month as well. In the place of that hobby, habit, or hurt, fill that empty time with Jesus. Invest your moments and minutes in prayer and reading the Bible. Take a friend out for lunch or coffee and share the hope of Christ with them. And all the while, make space for renewed gratitude and reflecting on the gospel: that we are all busy, broken, and burdened sinners in need of a Savior, which is Jesus Christ alone. Rest by faith in him.