We are barely into the New Year but already many of us are feeling guilty about our broken resolutions and/or are despondent about the lack of change in our lives. We feel guilty because we have not let up on the gas pedal of our lives enough to accommodate any of those new pledges to live differently.
But, you might reason, things will eventually settle down – but somewhere on the inside you really know that is not true. Things probably won’t settle down because we are like Martha in the Gospel of Luke – busy doing things we believe are necessary, as if we are living on the belief that constant busy-ness and activity is what really pleases God (Luke 10:38-42). The gospel story about Mary and Martha is a monkey wrench in our plans. So, what we often do when exposed to a story about Jesus setting priorities for us is that we simply feel guilty, then just move on with our all our hard work without ever doing the even harder work of stopping long enough to sit at the Lord Jesus’ feet.
We don’t sit down because, like Martha, we are distracted. After all, there are too many plans and preparations to be made. But the one reality that we must come to grips with is this: Jesus is here, and since he is here, what will we do?
I’m not going to give you some sage advice about how to plan your life, or some nifty tips concerning how to fix your schedule. Instead, I can tell you that, based on the Word of God, the one thing that we must do is be with Jesus and sit at his feet.
For that to happen we really need to see that we identify more with Martha than we do with Mary. We may not say it out loud, but Mary just seems weirdly irresponsible and maybe even a bit lazy to us. She has, we might think, her head in the clouds to the point of being no earthly good. And Jesus seems like he is not being very realistic or understanding of what a real life in today’s world is like, and what a hectic schedule we keep. For Jesus to identify with Mary sitting at his feet listening to him, and gently rebuke Martha for being pre-occupied with supper seems strange to our American Protestant work ethic. After all, there are things to do, people to see, family responsibilities, work projects and deadlines, school papers, plans and preparations. Martha isn’t a bad person, we rightly recognize. She was doing important work, hard work, and that is good. It’s not like she was idly sitting at her computer watching kittens breakdance on YouTube; she wasn’t wasting time surfing the web on her smartphone; she wasn’t next door gossiping to the neighbor, or being a busybody. We need people like Martha, people who will roll up their sleeves and get lots of work done, people like me, we reason. That’s what Martha was feeling, anyway. But we still must deal with this inescapable truth: Jesus didn’t feel that way.
Many of us go day after day, month after month, anxious, upset, troubled and even frantic over every dirty dish, each upcoming project or event, and every responsibility whether it is big or small. Truth be told, we are slaves to our schedules rather than being masters of our time and commitments. What ends up happening is the thing that matters most is squeezed out and pushed to the margins of our lives. We walk around and are quick to spout to anyone who will listen to us moan about how busy we are and how we don’t have time to read our Bibles, engage in focused prayer, let alone serve the church.
Being busy is not bad. But the point here is that the best practice we can engage in each and every day is to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him. This is a reminder to keep first things first. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong; she was just distracted and was missing out on learning from Jesus and making him priority. We all know what we have to do; but are we doing the one thing that is necessary?
If you are sick and tired and being sick and tired because of your ridiculously sinful schedule, then do this one thing: devote yourself to the Word of God and prayer every day. For that to happen we must not approach this in a legalistic way and end up rushing through reading the Bible and praying in a few minutes because we have to get to work. That only misses the important picture of unhurried time with Jesus.
We also need to avoid coming to the Scriptures as something to master or conquer or control because that misses the picture of simple humility and obedience at Christ’s feet. We really have to believe that sitting at Jesus’ feet is important enough to rearrange our lives without making excuses about it.
Most people are really not looking to be lazy. Most Christians I know have a high sense of responsibility and obligation – and that is good. We do not like letting people down or leaving things undone. We do not like running late or being idle. It is not wrong or bad to go through seasons of being overwhelmed with things that must be done. Every family is busy. But we must not wear that busy schedule as a badge of spirituality, as if we are trying to earn God’s good favor. There was a time in my life when I worked fifty hours a week, went to graduate school, and either preached or taught nearly every Sunday – all when my girls were still young and I was trying to be a good Dad and husband. I was up by 4:30 every morning and went to bed at 10:00 or later every night, and every minute of my days were filled to the full. There were no Sabbath days off; no vacations; nothing idle; I was constantly doing and going.
I only mention this because I learned something very important once I got through that crazy busy season of my life – something that I could not see while I was in the middle of it: my busy-ness actually caused everyone else around me to be as crazy busy as I was, especially my gracious wife. When there are no margins in your life, then every problem or change in schedule becomes a Martha-like experience of having to have other people step up in order to make your busy schedule possible. You then become the center of time, not God. People don’t do less when you are crazy busy – they do more, and the person who suffers the most is Jesus.
If we are so busy that we cannot hear the Word of God; if we are so upset and frustrated to the degree that we cannot listen to Holy Scripture; if we are preoccupied with thinking about Monday morning; if we are distracted making speeches in our heads and mumbling to ourselves about other people and how they should be here and do this and that; if that is us, then we have an issue, and that issue is not with the Mary’s of this world, but with our own Martha mentality. There is a difference between living a full life, and being obsessed with doing more and expecting others to do the same.
Christianity is a life. It is primarily a relationship, and relationships must be cultivated and given attention. Jesus loves you, and he wants you to be with him. Kevin DeYoung in his book Crazy Busy rightly says it’s not wrong to be tired and it’s not bad to feel overwhelmed. It’s only normal to go through seasons of a chaotic schedule. But what is both wrong and foolish, not to mention heartbreaking, DeYoung insists, is to live with more craziness than we should and have less Jesus than we need.
So, instead, may we live unhurried lives, yet accomplishing more, because we have been with Jesus, sitting at his feet learning from him.