We talk a lot about social justice, about getting moving, about doing more, doing something. We talk about, getting involved, about making a difference, about not standing still.
Here, we have a critical message from Jesus. Slow down. Listen. If we get too caught up in focusing on whatever our current goal is, we may miss out on something happening right here, right now. We need to be aware of our surroundings. Something may have changed. There may be something right there in front of us that we need to recognize to help us on—or even change the direction of—our journey. Or it may just be an amazing thing we don’t want to miss.
For Mary and Martha, having Jesus there with them was an honor, a treat. He was a friend, but he was a guest. Martha knew her role that evening was to serve their guest and make sure he had everything he needed. I always feel like Martha is tattling on her sister when she talks to Jesus here, asking him to tell her sister to get up off her duff and help out. Instead, in this moment, Jesus reminds Martha—and, through the retelling of this story, us—of the importance of pausing and taking in what is happening around us.
In leadership trainings, one common theme is taking time to simply thing and reflect. Sometimes they suggest actually blocking out an hour each day where there is nothing at all going on. Instead, just sit, think about how things are going. Think about how you want things to go. Think about how something could have been better, how something else could have been worse. Think about whether you’re on the right track or not.
A busy leader? A manager, who has to put out fires every other minute, decide on this thing or that, calm down this person, reassure that one? No way that person has time to just sit for an hour. Think of all the emails that can be answered, the paperwork that can be caught up on.
And yet, in practice, it’s really helpful. When I’m able to do it, I’m more productive the entire day. I may not be able to take an hour (I’m still not convinced that’s feasible), but ten minutes, maybe fifteen? Hugely helpful in my work, and it even helps reduce burnout.
The same thing happens to me when I take time to journal. I’ve always loved to journal. Part of it is I simply like writing, but more so, it’s that when I sit down and journal, things start to make more sense. Something I’ve struggled with for days, weeks, more, starts to come clear. Simply the act of writing helps the pieces to rearrange in my head so I can understand better, separate my feelings from my thoughts. It gives me perspective that I desperately need.
It’s prayer time for me. My prayers, I’ve come to realize, aren’t the down on my knees beside my bed thanking God for the day and asking God to watch over my family type of prayers. First of all, my knees would be killing me, and I just don’t think God wants me to be in physical pain every time I start a conversation. Prayer time comes when I pull out my notebook and just start writing. Sometimes it’s stream of consciousness, sometimes what I write sounds more like a common expectation of a prayer—thank you for this, help with that, take care of this person.
I don’t think I’ve ever made a major decision without journaling about it. It’s my quiet time at Jesus’ feet. To sit at one’s feet, as Mary was doing, meant to be engaged in active learning. Students would sit in the synagogue gathered around the rabbi who would teach and explain the scripture.
One journaling experience is on my mind a lot over the last week or so. Last year, it was through journaling that I made my decision not to spend six months in India. I was so anxiety-riddled that I couldn’t think any more, much less be productive in doing the things that had to be done. I sat down, picked up my notebook, and let the words tumble. An hour and a half later, I knew what I had to do. I knew what was right for me. I had taken time to sit at the feet of the Lord, in the midst of everything I had going on, despite ‘not having time to do it’, despite knowing I ‘needed’ to be doing other things. In that time, I realized I needed to stay here, for some unknown reason, and I was okay with it.
And now I smile wryly and shake my head in amazement that if I hadn’t taken the better part, I wouldn’t be celebrating one year with my beloved today. Mysterious ways, eh?
From the moment I told my dear friend and pastor that Kevin and I were engaged, he has cautioned us to remember to slow down. There’s so much doing-doing-doing. We are running from this place to that, deciding what colors for this to what song for that. The To-Do list just keeps growing. We are planning a wedding in less than five months, and there is so much that needs to be done. But we’re only doing this once, and we want to remember it and not look back with regret or dread. So we have fun with it. We take time off from thinking about it. We try to catch ourselves when we realize we haven’t been doing something we really enjoy doing together because we’ve ben so caught up in wedding stuff. So far, it’s working, and I’m glad. It’s been fun and mostly without anxiety or upset.
This, I think, was Jesus’ point. Martha, you’re working so hard. I know it. We all know it. But you’re upset with Mary because you’re missing the bigger picture right now. I’m only here for a little while, and I don’t want you to miss out on this. There’s time for elaborate meals and such later. Right now, come and be with me. Come and learn. Come and recharge.