A week ago today, Marie and I came home from our first camping trip in about two years. Despite some problems with the camper and our truck, we had a great time. My sister in law was also camping in the same campground with her children. Her husband and I worked all week, and while I commuted from the campground, it wasn’t practical for him to.
On the Saturday before we left, my niece and nephew asked if I would take them fishing. The campground has a small pond where fishing is permitted. So Marie, her sister, her brother who was visiting, my niece and nephew, and I walked to the pond to fish.
My niece and nephew were actually the only two who were fishing. There is a small footbridge over a narrow part of the pond and there are always fish near the bridge. My niece wanted to fish from the bridge while my nephew chose to fish from the pond’s bank hoping to catch larger fish.
I put a worm on my nieces hook and she lowered the line into the water. Within seconds, she had her first catch. She pulled the fish up and I took it off the hook and let it go back into the pond. Again, I put a worm on her hook and she immediately caught another fish.
She repeated this nine times, catching nine fish all seconds after lowering her line into the water.
My nephew wasn’t having as much luck. He did manage to catch two small fish, but the big fish proved to be elusive. We did witness some other children catch a large catfish, but the large fish stayed away from us.
Now, I have to admit I enjoy fishing also, but I am not a fanatic about it. I enjoy the peace and quiet of sitting waiting for a bite as much as I do actually catching fish. But for young children, catching the fish is the highlight of the experience.
As I read today’s Gospel message, I was struck by the verse where Jesus tells his disciples to gather the leftovers after the crowd had enough to eat and they were satisfied. This made me think of my recent fishing experience. What does it take to be satisfied? My niece fished for the numbers, to see how many fish she could catch. My nephew went for size, to try and catch bigger fish.
Satisfaction seems to be as elusive in most people’s lives as those large fish were last Saturday. We are constantly bombarded with messages from the television and the radio and our computers telling us to want more, to want the latest and greatest, and how these consumer goods will benefit our lives, how they will make us more comfortable, happier, improve our image to our neighbors, and make us more satisfied. The problem is, they never satisfy, for as soon as we buy one, there is another we need, and the cycle continues. Enough is never enough, we have been trained since we were very young to want more, to never be satisfied.
It is not just about consumer goods, it also about our careers. Many people strive to be the head of their department or company, to climb that corporate ladder as far as they can, often at great expense to their health and their relationships. They just aren’t satisfied until they reach the top, and many never get there, never reach the top, and never find satisfaction.
This never-ending quest for satisfaction affects our personal lives as well. We often plan full days for ourselves, full of chores that need to be done and errands we need to run, and meetings we need to attend. But in doing so, in having these full and busy lives, what are we missing? I recently read a story that illustrates this. The story was written by Lauren Wheeler Scharstein who is the associate pastor for youth and families at the Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair in New Jersey. She used to teach in Kenya and tells this story:
One Thursday afternoon in Nairobi, I went for a walk with my friend Anselm. We strolled through the neighborhoods that surround the Benedictine monastery where he lives on our way to the market. You should know, it is impossible to go for a short walk with Anselm, and this afternoon proved no different. This particular day, we ran into a young woman who was once Anselm’s student. She had finished high school 5 years earlier, and she fondly remembered her time in the classroom. We stopped our walk to sit down and have tea where we laughed and told stories. She jokingly asked Anselm why the monastery hadn’t given him a car to make all his errands and responsibilities easier. Anselm smiled and shook his head. He replied, “If I had a car, I would not have met you on the road today. I would have zoomed by without a glance.”
A couple of things struck me in this story. The first was that Anselm was walking with a friend to run an errand, to go to the market. They met a former student of his, and did not stop and say hello, and catch up for a few moments, but stopped and had tea, taking much more time out of his errand time to be reacquainted with his former student. I don’t know about everyone else, but I think I would have had a short conversation and kept going on my errand. Perhaps, I need to rethink my priorities at times.
Another thing that caught my attention was the student’s question. “Why doesn’t the monastery give you a car to make your errands and responsibilities easier?” This sounds more like how most people would respond. Many people are always looking for ways to become more efficient, to accomplish more in less time and with less energy. I must admit I fall into that category.
But Anselm’s response reminds me that once again, I should consider changing my priorities. “If I had a car I wouldn’t have met you on the road today, I would have zoomed by without a glance.” This made me wonder, how often I “zoom” by something I would truly treasure had I taken the time to do it. It made me wonder how many people that I know, have I zoomed by because I was too busy and didn’t see them, or see them in need? It made me realize how many people have been part of my life who I don’t see anymore because our schedules are so full we don’t have time to travel and visit each other, or even pick up the phone and call each other.
We all have busy lives. We all have commitments we need to keep, it is part of living in the world and it’s not going to change. For many of us, spare time is precious and in short supply.
It is good that we have technology and machinery to use to free up some of our time, as long as we don’t always free it up to add more chores, but perhaps free it up so we can spend more time with each other. It would be good if when we met an old friend, or co-worker, or classmate, or student, if we could take the time to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea, or coffee, and get reacquainted, to share what is happening in our lives.
Jesus offers us a different way to live our lives. Jesus frees us from the bondage of what the world would have us believe we need. Who we are as human beings is not defined by how much we do or how much we have. We belong to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, body and soul, in life and in death. Jesus wouldn’t give in to the anxiety of his time, and in Christ, God offers us a different way of being that doesn’t value our lives based on productivity or accumulation. With this different way of being, we are free to slow down every now and then, to live life to the fullest in community with God and those we love, assured that we are loved, just as we are, where we are, who we are, and be satisfied with our lives.
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God,
you created us to live in community with you
and with each other.
Yet, we as human beings
give in to the influences of our culture
and sometimes get caught up wanting more,
Lord, help us be strong
and resist the temptations our world tells us we need
as Jesus resisted the temptations in the wilderness.
Help us be satisfied knowing that you love us
just as we are,
just where we are,
and just who we are.
Help us to slow down and take time to be in community
and with those we love,
and to serve you in all we do.
Amen and Amen.