Personal Boundaries and Jesus

While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.” (Mark 1:35-36)

Jesus finally has time to slip away. He called his disciples. Cast out a demon. Healed his friend’s mother of a fever. Cared for dozens and maybe hundreds of people who had demons and sicknesses in town.

It was a rough night of sleep. Way before sunrise, he gets up off his mat on the hard floor to go pray. He wants to talk to his Father. He needs a quiet time. Recharge time. He needs to set some boundaries. So he finds the most lonely place, desolate even.

No one will find me, he thinks. This is perfect. But, really, he knows.

He prays for several minutes. An hour goes by. He wants more time. Needs it. Then, the unthinkable happens.

“Master, what in the world are you doing?” his friend Simon asked. “A quiet time now? The whole town is looking for you. They are hungering for you.”

A question passes through Jesus’ mind. How in the world did you find me? 

Jesus looks at Simon. There’s a temptation barreling over Simon’s shoulder, poised to smack Jesus right in the face. That prayer time wasn’t long enough, he hears. It was supposed to be my morning off. Ministry-free time. 

But he dodges the temptation-train. His gaze toward Peter is filled with compassion and understanding, not frustration or anger. “Alright then,” Jesus says. “Let’s keep on moving. After all, I came here to tell people about God’s kingdom.”

* * *

This episode in Mark has always struck me, particularly for its simplicity. But also because it rebukes me deeply. Here’s why.

There is a lot of discussion and teaching out there about personal boundaries and self-care. Particularly for people like me who have an occupation in ministry. Just google “self-care” and you’ll have 3,160,000,000 results in 0.55 seconds.

Boundaries and self-care are not bad things. Indeed, they are good and even necessary things. It’s important to get alone and learn how to say, “No.” Jesus was trying to do that, after all.

But personal boundaries and self-care are not ultimate. And Jesus’ actions in Mark 1 remind me of that.

He was far away from his disciples. They searched for and found him. They basically disregarded the boundaries he had set up and said, “You need to get back to work.” Imagine that. But he didn’t object. He didn’t say, “Today is my day off.” There was a need and Jesus was willing to set aside his prayer time to meet it.

Now, please hear me again. There’s nothing wrong with a day off. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a boundary. I take days off. I love days off. I try to hide in desolate places. I need this. So do you.

But here’s the big question that confronts me in this text: am I willing to set aside my perceived-right to boundaries and self-care to lay down my life to be able to see and care for the needs of someone else?

The Master was not only willing. He actually did. And we know, eventually, he gave it all up when he surrendered himself to die on the cross.

I want to be willing and ready like him.

What about you?