So I mentioned how everything seems to be telling me I need to slooow down, simplify, and do less (or do life) better, right? Well, the most radical warning hit me a week ago Sunday as I sat in church listening to a most timely (uncanny) sermon that had to have been written just for me. I almost avoided eye contact with our pastor lest he realize I was the very one for whom God led him to preach that message.
The bible story, Luke 10:38-42, tells of a time Jesus and his followers stop at the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha. During his brief visit, Mary sits closely so she can listen intently to every word Jesus has to say. Meanwhile, Martha’s “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” – you know, tidying up, serving refreshments, cooking…. As she runs about, Martha starts getting irked. (I imagine her mumbling under her breath, “Why the heck is Mary just sitting there while I’m doing all the work tending to our guests? Is she that selfish or oblivious? Does she think I don’t wish I could just sit and listen too?”) Fed up, Martha marches up to Jesus and complains, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” But guess what happens. Jesus doesn’t call Mary out for her idleness; he calls Martha out for her distractedness. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but there is need of only one thing. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” Wait, wha?? Did she hear that right?
Poor, dutiful Martha probably didn’t see that coming. Frankly, the first time I read this story, I didn’t either. After all, what’s wrong with being a gracious hostess?! Isn’t that a good thing? Yet Jesus gently sets Martha straight by honing in on their priorities. Mary chose listening to Jesus’ teachings over helping Martha serve the guests (including Jesus himself). And she chose right. Why? Because, Jesus explains, people ultimately need only one thing (salvation, or life eternal in heaven), and he is the only means to that end.
I thought about this more when I got home. For argument’s sake (whether or not you personally take any of this to be true), IF:
(a) Jesus is who he says he is – the Son of God and the only way to eternal life in heaven;
(b) Mary and Martha believe that Jesus is who and what he says he is; and
(c) Jesus is standing there, in the flesh, in their own living room, teaching and preaching,
then heck yeah, how could the sisters not immediately and instinctively drop everything else to listen closely to every word coming out of Jesus’ mouth? Would, could anything else matter more, or matter at all, at that very moment?
I can’t help thinking, “Wow. Martha must’ve been distracted by some major competing passions or priorities for her focus to have been pulled away from the one she thought of as her God and savior.” But what was she distracted by? Cooking, cleaning, serving. (huh.) REALLY? Those were the “all-important” competing passions and priorities? No, course not – that’s just scratching the surface. I can’t help thinking that Martha’s resentment, complaint and even her tone with Jesus betray a little arrogance or ego – after all, she’s “the responsible one,” the “super multi-tasker” (*cough cough, avoiding eye contact again), the “hostess with the mostest.” Her competing distraction was really her self-centeredness. Why won’t her “Lord” stop babbling about whatever it is he’s saying (you know, merely God things, that’s all) and order her sister to help her in the kitchen already?! I mean, what’s more important, right? (And I only finger-point here because I see so much of myself in Martha and wonder whether I too wouldn’t have made the same foolish mistake, wasting that precious time being a distracted, self-important busybody.)
Jesus was so right. When I am “worried and distracted by many things” (even good, valid, important things), it’s impossible for me to regularly focus on the one thing I’ve claimed is of utmost importance to me (i.e., sticking close to Jesus). All those distractions I allow in my life just go to show that I’m merely giving lip service to God. How then do I simplify and focus for real?
1. Find my North Star.
The North Star is famous because it doesn’t move. The sky rotates around it. And because it stays put, it’s a reliable reference point from which to figure out one’s direction and latitude. To live the undistracted life, the first thing I need to do is find my North Star – you know, decide what’s the one thing that will be my guide for everything, that I seek and desire above all else, that I couldn’t live without. Is it DH, my kids, family, wealth, career, reputation, friendships, looks, health? No. Because as much as they mean to me, I don’t want my whole life centered around any of them. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that none of those things or people can be 100% dependable, 24-7, to my dying day. If I want to avoid getting lost along the way, I can’t choose a moving target, one that’s vulnerable, passing, unreliable. “Mary made the right choice.” She had one fixed reference point: Jesus. Martha had two: to follow Jesus but also to be a people-pleaser. Being a Martha has gotten me nowhere. I want to be like Mary. Jesus is my North Star.
2. Get my bearings.
Now that Jesus is my reference point, the second question is: Where am I in relation to him? Each morning, when I get outta bed, I hit the ground running. And all too often, it isn’t until a mealtime prayer or after the kids are down and I’m lying in bed that I even give a passing thought to him. Hmm. So Jesus is “my North Star” but I haven’t even looked his way once until the day’s almost over? How then can I say my life revolves around him? If I don’t stop, habitually and frequently, to get my bearings, how in the world do I expect to reach my destination? What’s more, if I think about it, there really is very little I need, to get there, to know and love God more fully. I need only guard my friendship and my walk with Jesus. When he calls, do I answer? When he leads, do I follow? When he speaks, do I listen? When I have news, good or bad, do I share it with him (not that he doesn’t already know)? When I’m sad, do I lean on him? When I’m afraid, do I look for his protection? When I’m unsure, do I seek his advice?
Recently, I wrote about how we should cultivate a problem-solving mindset in our kids and ourselves. The problem I want to solve, each day, is discerning whether the tasks, pursuits and company I choose are helping or hurting me from knowing and loving Jesus, and sharing his love with others, better. Stop running, Anita, and take inventory.
3. Adjust my course.
Last comes the hardest part. It’s not enough to just get my bearings. I have to make adjustments, daily, to realign myself with my North Star. For me (as is the case for most of us), that means do less, not more.
So while it’s good to volunteer at the kids’ school, if the price paid is the only hour I have that day to read my bible, pray and meditate, I must remember “there is need of only one thing.”
It’s good to spend some time with friends, but it’s best to first spend time with Jesus. “There is need of only one thing.”
It’s good to feed my family a home-cooked meal, but it’s best to serve them the “Bread of Life” (i.e., foster their relationships with Jesus). “There is need of only one thing.”
It’s good to get the best education possible for my kids, but it’s best to teach them the way to eternal life. “There is need of only one thing.”
It’s good to have a strong marriage and strong friendships, but it’s best to make Jesus the lover of my soul and my best friend. “There is need of only one thing.”
We all have a destiny based on our design. SO. What is the priority of your heart? What is your North Star? Are you steadily moving in that direction or are you distracted and need to reorient yourself? Invest some time and energy answering these questions now and you’ll save yourself a whole lotta time and energy wasted later. Slow down, simplify, and do less, do life, better. Follow your North Star and you’ll get to where you need to be.