An Invitation to Choose the Better Thing
This morning I sat in my bed and listened to one of my favorite podcasts, Pray As You Go. On the crazy mornings, the ones where I don’t wake up early enough (read: 5:45) to pray in the quiet and I feel the sting of leaving the house at 7:15 to get the kids to school (WHY? WHY DO WE LEAVE THE HOUSE AT 7:15???), the Pray As You Go podcast serves as my sometimes-undistracted ten minutes of prayer. A moment to breathe while I’m pouring cereal or drinking coffee or spraying loads of dry shampoo into my wild hair (because I didn’t make it into the shower…again).
Today I sat in my bed with a cup of coffee and listened to a reading of that well-known story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. How many church women’s events in the past twenty years have focused around the theme of Mary and Martha, the sisters who supposedly represent all women everywhere? Are you a Mary or a Martha? I’ve been asked with regularity.
I don’t think Mary and Martha are meant to define all women everywhere. In fact, men would do well to listen to Jesus’ gentle challenge to his friend Martha. And we’d all (men and women!) do well to recognize that we are neither “Marys” nor “Marthas.” Actually, we are humans living in the most demanding moment of time-stress in history.
I’m currently reading a fantastic research-driven book called Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. It’s a book that doesn’t just talk about the frantic state of our culture, but the factors that have brought us here. The author, Brigid Schulte, interviews time researchers and leisure researchers (yes, those things actually exist), and asks the questions we’re all asking: Where is the time? How are we supposed to get all this stuff done and be the people we want to be when there’s not enough time?
I’ve been asking myself that question for years, and longing to find the secret-sauce to a life of a gentle pace and healthy presence in my daily life. I’m not necessarily close to an answer.
But this morning as I listened to the lovely English lady-voice guide my prayer in response to the Mary and Martha story, I had the realization that we are not simply Mary people or Martha people. Those divisions are not so easily defined.
It’s not that some of us know how to sit and listen to the Lord and some of us only know how to frantically work. This is not about dispositions or good people versus distracted people.
Really, my disposition is much closer to Mary’s. I’d rather sit and learn. But the reality of my life is that of Martha’s. There’s work to do and I have to do it. If I don’t fulfill my daily obligations my world and the people who depend on me will suffer. I have to pick my kid up from school. I have to help with homework. I have to make dinners. I have commitments at church and commitments in my work. I need to pay the bills on time and get the groceries and call the doctor and take care of my friends. Does that make me a Martha?
This is what I heard resonating deeply in me as I contemplated that small story in the book of Luke: It’s not about whether I’m a Mary or a Martha already.
This is not a story about what we already are. It’s a story of what we’re invited to be, moment by moment, today.
When Martha pulls Jesus aside to beg him for a little help, she’s drowning under her obligations and her longing to make Jesus’ visit to her home comfortable and welcoming for him and his followers. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
And Jesus’ response is this, “Martha…you are worried and upset about many things.” (Something Jesus could say to me at any moment in my day, I’m afraid.) “Mary has chosen what is better.”
What is the better thing for us—right now—in this moment? I may never make it through my to-do list, I may never get the thank you notes written that I mean to write. (And believe me, guilt floods my chest when I think about what I’m leaving undone.)
But here it is: Jesus is offering Martha (and me, and you) an invitation to choose, in this moment, the better thing.
An invitation to stop in the midst of our daily, harried pace and redirect our hearts.
An invitation to choose peace over frantic self-consumption. An invitation to slow down our minds and hearts, even in the midst of running late to work or battling the to-do list. An invitation to breathe even when the email inbox threatens to explode our brains.
What is the better thing in this moment? That’s the question. Not whether you’re a Mary or a Martha. But whether you’re wise enough to discern the opportunity for peace and joy that is being offered to you—now, right here—in the presence of Jesus.