Women in ministry see it all: families torn apart by addiction, mental illness, poverty and greed. We hear parents anguish over what they should have done differently. We try to bring light and hope in the midst of deathbed regrets, and newborns with feeding tubes. We long to sit at Jesus’ feet and rest for a while. But after a busy day at work, tending to the needs of others, we then go home to the daily struggles of our families—meals, bills, and errands. The weight of the world is strapped to our backs, so we smile, say a prayer and do the next right thing–put one foot in front of the next, and carry on.
That’s why our denomination offered a Women in Ministry Retreat this week. They probably figured we could relate to the Mary and Martha scripture passage we studied (Luke 10:41). You know, the one where Martha basically calls her sister “lazy” for sitting at Jesus’ feet and leaving her with all the preparations. We wrestled for hours over which is more important—serving others or resting at Jesus’ feet to listen and learn. What began as creative imagining—plopping ourselves smack dab into the middle of the story–ended in a gut wrenching self-examination of our lives and our faith.
I can easily relate to Martha. I love to entertain and live for the smiling eyes as guests go for that second helping. So Martha’s pleas to Jesus are not that new to me. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work. Tell her to help me.”
Our newscasts and office buildings are filled with these laments. “Why are we the ones doing all the work around here when there are able bodied people just sitting around? Or why are we working so hard, when they are reaping all the benefits?
Do you hear the edge in the voice, that self-righteous tone of resentment that pierces the skin? I imagine the inner voice of Mary getting ready to reply, “I am not lazy. I’m just taking a rest while I listen and learn from the master. He is so amazing; I just want to be near Him–to enjoy his presence for a while.”
Perhaps, Mary is too tired and battle weary to do anything else. She has to sit for a while to recuperate. I feel that way every day, which is why I need two hours of quiet time in the morning before I even face the day. Sitting in darkness and watching the moon set, I meditate and pray. I gain strength from the One who places the sun and moon at opposite ends from each other, rising and setting in tune like the grand symphony of life. “A gift,” my PawPaw used to say. “God gives us two gorgeous gifts each day: a sunrise and a sunset. But most people are too busy or too tired to notice.”
But Mary doesn’t have to say a word. Jesus speaks on her behalf. “Martha, Martha.” His term of endearment is saying her name twice. “You are worried and upset about many things.”(Of course I am Lord. Can’t you see I am trying to hold your world together while others around me are sluggards? If I stop, everything will be ruined.)
“You are worried about many things (dishes) when only one is needful. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” OUCH! Just when Martha though she would receive Jesus’ praise for being such a hard and devoted worker, or his intervention with her lazy sister, Jesus turns things upside down.
It’s not that her work isn’t important, for we are all called to serve. Each of us has a role in God’s plan for the world. Perhaps what Jesus was responding to was the tone in Martha’s voice–that ring of resentment. As if to say, “If you are getting resentful, then stop. Come sit at my feet like Mary and enjoy our time together. We may only have one dish (or none) to eat, but the spirit of community, love, and wholeness will be our nourishment. It may not be the feast you have planned (which I know would be delicious) but why don’t you take a rest for a while and delight in our relationship and time together? You choose what you will, Martha, but Mary has chosen what is better, and I am not going to take that away from her.”
You’ve got to love Jesus! He turns the tables on things time and time again!
I can hear the pots stirring in her mind. It’s hard for the worker bees to hear that it’s okay sometimes to sit and refresh. It’s okay to listen for the quiet breath of inspiration, which renews, rekindles, and rediscovers that God has everything under control.
Every time I teach on Sabbath-keeping someone says, “There is no way I can take a day off. Our family/business/world would fall apart. It would produce too much anxiety and loss.” Those of us who know, just smile, remembering that some
Israelites said the same thing with the manna. “There is no way there will be enough for us to eat on Sabbath if we don’t collect extra. I’ll keep some until morning to tide us over. “ And what did they find the next day? What was the fruit of their labor? “Some of them paid no attention. They kept part of the manna until morning. But it was full of maggots and began to smell.” Exodus 16:20
Why did it begin to smell? Because, you cannot hide lack of faith. It comes out in all kinds of ways: resentment, anger, fear, judgment, hatred, and greed.
“Come sit for a while, Martha. Only one thing is needful, right now.”
If only I had heeded his words as a young mother. My own vision for having a happy home was putting a gourmet meal on the table every night. My children beckoned, “Come see what I learned at school today, Mom.” “Come play with me.” But I couldn’t. I was steeped in sauces and vegetable gratins. I had too many dishes on the stove, when only one would’ve sufficed.
The reek of resentment probably wafted at the dinner table each night even though I tried to mask it with garlic. I loved my church work, but at home, I felt I was carrying the burden of shuttling kids, homework, and housework alone. (My pastor husband has always worked 60+ hour weeks.) What I found out years later when I gave up my ideals of perfection and served one-dish soups or tacos weekly was that our family’s soul was restored. I had so much fun with my children, that instead of the stench of resentment when Tim returned home, I felt compassion and care for him, for he was the one that was truly missing out. So rich was our concern for him that we devised ways to include him in our fun and refreshment even while he was at work.
That was probably what Jesus had in mind when he spoke to Martha. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate her hard work. (Who doesn’t love gourmet meals?) Actually, it is part of God’s design that all of us experience the richness of a job where we are appreciated and sought after for our God given gifts and talents. It’s when that doesn’t happen that our hearts are hardened. That’s when we become much more worried about ourselves rather than listening to what the Master has to say.
Remember the Sabbath. Trust me. For I know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans for a hope and a future.
When we sit down, focus on God, and rest, our resentments fall away. Our souls are nourished. Delight will fill our hearts. And when we get back to work, we might find that others are so intrigued by our exuberance that they will want to join us in serving God as well.
God designed us as human beings, not machines. All we need to do is trust that God knows what God is doing. There is bounty enough for all. The world will still turn. The moon will still set and the sun will still rise. Two gifts each day are ours. Pay attention, rest for a while, and be prepared for a soul feast.
You worry about many things…when only one thing is needed. Luke 10:42