The Gospel of Mark is the shortest and fastest-moving of all the gospels. The author does not elaborate a great deal on each of Jesus’ episodes or on the disciples’ lives, but simply and quickly moves from one event to the next, often using the word immediately to connect two incidents.
It perhaps should not be surprising that Mark should write in this way, because he wrote his gospel from accounts given to him by the Apostle Peter (as it is commonly thought), with whom he traveled on his preaching circuit. Peter himself was a man who was usually very economical with his words and was, as we know from the descriptions of his activities, a man who quickly moved from one event to the next.
Although Mark may have written in the hurried style of ministry that he shared with Peter, I have my doubts if Mark was of this same, impetuous temperament in his personality. Mark sometimes writes as if he is a little out of breath as he followed the Apostle Peter in his travels. For instance, of all the gospel writers in telling about the ministry of Jesus with his disciples, only Mark mentions not only once but a couple of times that they were so busy that they did not even have time to eat (Mark 3:20; 6:31).
I find it a little amusing that Mark writes in this way, since he was not even present with the disciples when these times of going without meals occurred. Nevertheless, I can imagine Mark listening to Peter telling him about those days and being quite impressed by this fact. The ministry of Peter almost certainly still had some of those same active characteristics, and Mark could probably relate well to this when Peter told him about it. Perhaps Mark, in his own personality, would perhaps have taken things at a bit more moderate pace—just possibly.
The Need for Solitude
More than any of the gospel writers, Mark seems to take note of the times when Jesus went off by himself to a secluded place where he could be alone for a little while. And Mark is the only one of the gospel writers who makes note of one specific thing that Jesus said to his disciples at a crucial point in their lives. Perhaps what Jesus said to the disciples on this occasion was not so significant, and yet, it is significant enough for Mark to have recorded it.
On this occasion, Jesus had just sent the twelve disciples out on a journey. Actually, they went out in pairs on separate journeys. Jesus told them to take nothing for their own preparations except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money, nothing. What Jesus did give them for their journey, however, was authority over unclean spirits.
So the disciples went out and “preached that people should repent.” We are told that the disciples also “drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil, and healed them” (Mark 6:12-13). I am sure that their journeys were filled with activities of all sorts, and the demands upon them and their time were great.
On these types of ministries, sleep is never adequate, and fatigue begins to build. After a time (we do not know how long), the disciples returned very excited about their short-term mission trip. They were full of stories about all that they had seen and what they had done.
The very next event after this in the lives of Jesus and his disciples is the significant and famous story of the feeding of the five thousand people. The other synoptic gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, both mention in their accounts that at the return of the disciples from their travels, Jesus took them with him as he went to find a place where he could have some rest (Matthew 14:13; Luke 9:10). If we would only have these two accounts, it might even seem as if Jesus looked for the opportunity for himself to be alone, but did not necessarily communicate the importance of this to the disciples.
It was only the gospel writer Mark who tells us of a simple phrase that Jesus said to the disciples at this point. Ordinarily, in his action-packed style of writing, we would expect Mark to next write, “Immediately after these things,” and then move on to the feeding of the five thousand.
Indeed, both Matthew and Luke pause very little at this point in their narrative, and in their writings, they quickly begin telling about that next event of the feeding of the 5000. But Mark departs from his normal style of writing to add something that Jesus said.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” Jesus told his disciples (Mark 6:31 NAS).
Mark then pauses further to emphasize the fact that many people were coming and going, and to mention, as he had on one other occasion, that Jesus and his disciples did not even have time to eat. He then continues, “They went away in a boat to a secluded place by themselves.”
A Society That Discourages Solitude
The often heard phrase concerning occupational stress in these days is “burnout.” It is a catch-all term that describes an emotional condition that comes about by continual pressures of work and relationships. In my own work, I hear of burnout in the lives of missionaries or of pastors.
“Missionary Smith quit and went home. He just got burnt out”
It happens with missionaries and pastors, but of course it can and does happen in any occupation. Just as our physical bodies become fatigued and in need of rest, so it is true of our emotional lives. The difficulty is that we do not recognize emotional and mental fatigue as easily as physical.
With physical exhaustion, our bodies send us continual reminders of how tired we are. The need for rest becomes very obvious to us. Emotional fatigue is not quite so clear. Even when we are at the point of emotional exhaustion, another exciting event in our lives often gives us renewed energy. We get a renewed surge of adrenaline so that our exhaustion is masked and we think that we are ready to move on to the next event.
This is the way that it seemed to be in the narrative that Matthew and Luke wrote. The disciples came home from their short-term mission trip all fired up and ready to move on to the next event—something like having an outdoor meeting with five thousand people.
Not so much with Mark’s writing. Jesus knew of the need: “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” he told his disciples.
Jesus’ words about going to a secluded place demonstrate a need that we all must address in our lives and that is reflected in Jesus’ own life. Jesus often sought quiet times. It sometimes was difficult for him to find those times.
It is also difficult for us. Ours is a society that is constantly on the move and in which personal solitary times are becoming increasingly rare. We have for so long lived without solitude, we no longer even know how to be alone. Some people are uncomfortable when they are absolutely alone. Any observation of the mannerisms of people show us that it seems that if we do ever find ourselves alone, we must either be plugged into our electronic devices, chatting online, or talking on our cell phones in order to drown out the noise of silence.
Lives that are to have meaning cannot continue in this way. In order to understand and process all of the activities that are going on around us and in which we ourselves are involved, we must seek some time when we can and find a “secluded place” to reflect on all that is happening and to bring it all before God. We need solitary times to process that which is occurring in the course of our lives. Not to do so will result in ourselves being carried along by changing circumstances and the capricious nature of life instead of ourselves directing where our life should carry us.
Quiet reflection in thought is vital for discovering your true direction in life.
The Pattern for Solitude
Mark took special note of this need of solitude. In one of the very first incidents that he records in the life of Jesus, Mark tells of how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who had been lying sick and with a fever. When the news of that healing began to be spread about the town, Mark writes:
When evening came, after the sun had set, they [the people of the city] began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. (Mark 1:32-34 NAS)
This event in Jesus’ life demonstrates the nature of the daily pressures for Jesus. The crowds were constantly pressing in on him in every place. Their needs were numerous and very great. These needs were not merely physical needs such as need of food and healing of illnesses, but they were also spiritual in their nature. The pleas of the people included the casting out of demons.
Jesus found himself in constant battle with the demons. It is in the midst of all of these pressing needs that Mark again tells us of something that Jesus did. “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there” (Mark 1:35, NAS).
Alas, the time for Jesus in his secluded place was short-lived. His disciples were searching for him and found him out. “Everyone is looking for you,” they told Jesus. Indeed. The demand was constantly there.
So Jesus continued his ministry, because, as he told the disciples, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:38-39 NIV).
True to his word, Jesus continued. His time alone perhaps cut short by the needs of the people, he continued to travel throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
“I Know the Feeling”
In terms of having moments alone cut short, I at least can relate Jesus on that level. Perhaps many of us can. In our society, as in the days of Jesus, times alone do not come on their own. We must seek them out.
Believe it or not, it is actually much easier to find times alone in our western society than in some of the places I have personally lived in the past. I recall many times living in a village in a third world county finding it quite impossible to be alone. Even if I would head off into the fields to try and find some solitude, someone would inevitably come walking along and begin to tell me of something that they needed from me.
It was not that I did not want to help, but just not now. It sometimes seemed like everyone was looking for me.
I think many moms know this feeling. Perhaps you also know the feeling.
If Jesus saw the need to be alone, we also must see this need to find a solitary place.
“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” Jesus told his disciples.Jesus also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)