Relationships & Our Limitations

Mark 1:29-39

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Some of you may have been watching back in early November of last year when tightrope walker Nik Wallenda stepped out into a cold, windy Chicago night while carefully making his way across a single rope suspended between two downtown skyscrapers. The walk was broadcast live on TV around the country. With the accomplishment, Wallenda firmly cemented himself as perhaps the greatest tightrope walker of our day.

Nik Wallenda, however, may not have anything of Charles Blondin who is regarded by most of having been the greatest tightrope walker of all time. The Great Blondini, as he was called, lived during the 1800s and performed countless walks. His most famous were likely his many walks across Niagara Falls. One could say that Blondin was infatuated with the Falls and he crossed them frequently with each new trip involving a new element of suspense and daring. Over the years, Blondin crossed Niagara Falls blindfolded, on stilts, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow and one time while stopping midway to cook and eat an omelet. But, perhaps the most intriguing was the time, in 1859, that The Great Blondini crossed the Falls while carrying his manager, a man named Harry Colcord, on his back.

As they prepared for the walk, Blondin gave Harry Colcord these instructions, “look up Harry…you are no long Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we will both go to our death.” (Smithsonian Magazine, October 18, 2011, “The Daredevil of Niagara Falls”)

I love the imagery of that statement between Blondin and his manager. For all of us just like for Harry Colcord, our success depends on holding tight to the one who carries us and shows us the way – our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, life for us too, like for Blondin and Colcord, on that fateful day, is a balancing act. In large part, our success in balancing our own lives is also found in clinging to the example of Jesus, who like the great Blondini, was a master when it came to living with balance.

From the outset today, I want to be clear that this is important work. When I spend time as a pastor with many of you or when Adair, Tommy or Carl do the same, so often the conversation comes around to balance. When I talk to colleagues who are also ministers, again, this issue is often at the forefront on countless pastoral care conversations that they describe. Without question, balance is needed as it relates to many, many areas of life – but it is painfully needed when it comes to our relationships.

Whether we are caring for our children, aging parents, a sibling or a friend in a tough place, balance in those relationships is incredible difficult to achieve and before we know it, we can become so consumed in the act of caring for another, that we deplete ourselves of the ability to care for ourselves. In an instant, we can use up all of our energy on others and we can quickly move from being a helper to becoming someone on whom others are dependent. This scenario happens incredibly frequently and easily in life. And if it isn’t happening to you right now in some relationship, it likely has or it likely will.

In the midst of this issue of modern life, there is the remarkable example of Jesus that we discover in our text for today and the way that he balanced caring for countless people with his own needs and in light of the dangers that role of being a caregiving can create.

As has already been mentioned, this text is a continuation of Jesus’ day that begins with his work of healing a man with an evil spirit while he was teaching in the synagogue. According to Mark, Jesus moves from the synagogue to the home of Peter and Andrew, where he heals Peter’s Mother in Law. This miracle, coupled with what Jesus had just done in the synagogue, leads to word getting out around town about Jesus’ presence and about his power. As a result, as the day begins to come to a close, these two miracles lead to “the whole city” being at the door of Peter and Andrew’s home with countless people vying for Jesus attention and help.

As one can imagine this was tiring work on all levels – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Having looked at these miracle stories in Mark chapter 1 over the last couple of weeks, I am struck by one of the key components of so many of them. That is the role that Jesus’ touching of the person plays in the stories. Sure, this gets at the fact that through his very touch, the power of God passed through him to the person for healing and restoration. But for me, it also illustrates the fact that Jesus got to know them and spent time with them in a very personal, intimate way. These were not nameless faces or statistics, these were real people whom Jesus made space for and whom he cared for in a personal way. That is to say, he was close enough to be able to reach out and touch them.

When I was a young minister, I remember a church member whose wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her early 50s. Every day, he would go to work in order to make ends meet. And, every night, he did his best to keep her at home and be the primary care giver. I remember going to see him on a regular basis and each time I did, the one word that always came to my mind as I left as a way of describing him was this – exhausted.

Personal care for others is exhausting work, in whatever shape or form it takes. It really does wear us down physically, spiritually and mentally. This marathon day of healing made Jesus weary too just as it does us.

Yet, notice in the text that as this day in the life of Jesus drew to a close and as a new one prepared to begin, the gospel says that Jesus pulled away from the disciples and the crowd. He retreated to a “deserted place” where he could renew his energies, pray and be alone with God the father. In essence, he balanced the exhausting work of being with others with the needed task of being by himself. He realized that being with others and sharing his energies and his life with them meant he must also make regular time to renew himself through getting away and being alone. Jesus too, as the son of God, needed to recharge his batteries – physically, mentally and spiritually. As modern caregivers, we must do the same!

But that is not all. When the disciples catch up to Jesus and encourage him to come back to the house and offer more care, he teaches them another lesson of balance. He makes it clear that it is time for them to move on to other places and to other people. In other words, he has completed his task in this particular vicinity and it is time for those who have been helped to move forward on their own.

Jesus teaches here that balance is not simply found in striking a healthy distribution of our time between care of self and care of others, but, that balance is also found in recognizing, that our care for others can never reach a point where they no longer have responsibility for themselves. At some point, if at all possible, we must disengage so that we can allow them to live and succeed on their own. Sure, Jesus could have set up shop in Capernaum and met all of the needs there for the rest of his life. But, wisely, he recognized that his best help was a healthy tightrope between offering his own care and encouraging self care.

Without question, this is not always a possibility. Sometimes, when we are caring for those at the end of life or in debilitating health situations promoting their care of themselves is not always an option. But, much of the time it is. And further, I want to challenge us that the hardest and yet best thing in many of our relationships is to recognize our limits which is a positive step both for us and for those that we care for.

This is also how God wisely cares for us. God, without question, meets our needs. But, God does not make us robots nor does God take over control of our existence. God is here to guide us, to love us, to support us but at the same time to challenge us to use his care and support to make our own decisions and freely live.

Several years ago, Ken Blanchard wrote a number of books about time management in the work place. In one of those books, he tells a wonderful story that is as much about life as it is about time management. In the story, a man who is the manager of several employees constantly finds himself helping his employees navigate difficulties that they have at work. On a regular basis, and out of a deep desire to help, his solution is that he will take care of the problem that has arisen. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that for you” becomes his famous statement. One day, this boss, who is so loved because he is so caring, finds himself working on a Saturday. As he does, he looks out his window at a park that is next door. What he sees in the park is shocking. All of his employees are there enjoying their Saturday. One is reading a book, another is napping, a third is having a picnic and a fourth is flying a kite with their son. He is working, trying to solve all of their problems, while they go on their merry way without a care in the world. Rather than offer them guidance as they seek to live out their own professional lives, he has fallen for what seemed good in the moment but is disastrous in the long run and as he lives out their professional lives for them.

Do we do the same? Are we living a balanced life, or, have our lives evaporated out of a good idea gone bad in our pursuit of caring for others?   At the same time, have we embraced the freedom that comes from God who guides and loves us but who also gives us the freedom to walk on our own? Amen.