I live with a remarkable young man. In fact, I live with 13 remarkable people, only four of whom are my natural relations. But right now I’m thinking about one young man of 22 who’s been living with us in intentional Christian community since he was 18.
What makes him remarkable is that rather than living for number one, this young man is pouring his life into something besides himself.
Not for him a life caught up in the petty pursuits of car and computer, beer and birds. Nor is he, as Anthony Delaney memorably put it, aiming for a life of “converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, then stopping.” He lives with generous and genuine desire for other people’s good. His youthful energy is thrown at the feet of Jesus with abandon.
He lives, he really lives – because he lives for more than himself.
And that is where this little musing starts. You see, yesterday, this noble young lion hit the deck. He’d been in the fast lane for several weeks. He had a major role in the Jesus Army’s big march and festival in London; days later he threw himself into helping organise a youth outing (complete with night slept under the stars) for about 25 young men; he runs a cell group with several lively lads in it. Then there’s a holy romance with a certain young lady, his betrothed. Oh and did I mention he works hard as a builder in between all this?
By the time yesterday morning came, he was jiggered. All it took was a well-intentioned question (about something he hadn’t got round to doing) and exhaustion felled him. He was in a bit of a state, really. Okay, he’d bounced back, moreorless, by later that day – but it was a bit of a warning.
He’d been skating on the thin ice and was close to burning out (to use a mixed metaphor worthy of Paul the apostle).
I talked to him later that day and was impressed again by his greatness of heart (the main thing he wanted to talk about was how to ensure that his wedding later this year is an occasion to honour God). But we talked about how he could pace himself and whether there was any opportunity coming up for a bit of recharge.
It touches on a wider issue. As a church, we are by nature aspirational. We aim high, pretty consistently punch above our weight, and achieve a great deal. It’s impressive. A day like the Jesus Army’s London Day (check out some pictures here for the flavour) is a good example of what can be achieved with an “aim for heaven, get the earth thrown in” mentality. I love the Jesus Army’s “can-do” outlook. I hope we’ll never be tamed, never cowed into “thinking smaller”.
And yet. There’s something to be said for pacing ourselves with wisdom, guarding the heart, finding the place for rest in all our activity.
A leader in the Salvation Army spoke to our whole church, some years ago. He spoke of being “contemplative activists”, combining reflection and aspiration, “being” and “doing”. He called us to the challenge.
“Contemplative activists.” It’s a phrase that has stuck with me. (Yes, it’s another paradox, for those who know I’ve been finding them under every stone recently.)
I realise, as I think about that sterling young man, and about our church – and about me – that that term, “contemplative activists”, sums up much of what we must seek to be. Deep, yes, Energetic, yes. Leisured; not lazy. Energetic; not enervated.
I’ve noticed that in Mark’s Gospel, everything happens to Jesus “at once” or “straight away” or “immediately”. Yet he was never stressed out, never stretched beyond suppleness (well, until Gethsemane, perhaps, but that’s a different point). Why? Because at the right times, he sought solitude. He recharged. He listened.
What would Jesus do? Good question. And here’s another: what would Jesus not do? And - more to the point, perhaps - what would Jesus be?
As I once blogged here before:
God, teach us silence, so that our words will not be empty, but carry power.
Teach us stillness, so our activity will not be frantic, but fruitful.
Teach us solitude, so that we can live in community.