“Busy!” my friend sighed, after I had asked how he was doing. The demands of work had been eating away at family time, his weekends were spent chauffeuring their kids from soccer games to ballet practices to friends’ houses for sleepovers. He looked exhausted!
My friend isn’t alone. Chances are that you too have felt – or now feel – overwhelmed with the busyness of life. Between work schedules, the demands of parenting, involvement at our kids’ schools, and volunteering at church, we race through the week at breakneck speed, barely pausing long enough to catch our breath. We collapse into bed at the end of the day, only to get up 6 hours later and repeat the whole cycle again the next day. For some of us, the thought of taking vacation leaves us feeling anxious and so we take our work with us. For others, our marriages suffer the strain as we argue with our spouse about who is more over-committed. We aren’t meant to be this busy.
Luke’s gospel tells us a story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman just like us. Martha was a busy woman. Knowing that Jesus was coming for lunch, she got busy doing what she did best: kneading the dough to make bread, seasoning and braising the meat, putting fresh linens on the bed, and sweeping the home to make it more welcoming. Martha excelled in hospitality – but her sister Mary was more interested in spending time with Jesus, asking him questions, and listening to him teach. If you’ve ever stood in Martha’s sandals, you can relate to the resentment that builds as you do all the work while others enjoy the fruit of your labor--without so much as a thank-you! “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” Martha demanded of Jesus.
It would be easy to hear this simply as a cautionary tale: “Don’t be a Martha!” “Don’t be too busy to pray!” In fact, Jesus’ gentle reply exposes a sin buried deep within all of our hearts. “You are anxious about many things,” he says to her (and to us). Behind Martha’s busyness was anxiousness.
Anxiousness is often a deep fear about the future: we become anxious because we fear our lack of control over what will happen tomorrow. We become anxious when we fear that we aren’t enough-–that our lives will be weighed and found wanting. We get anxious when we fear that we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t working hard enough, that we haven’t accomplished enough, that we are somehow incomplete. Anxious people become busy people by trying over and over to prove ourselves. We pour ourselves into our work, trying to prove that we are successful. We bend over backwards, trying to give our kids every opportunity available to prove that we are good parents. We jump at every volunteer opportunity to prove that we are good Christians or good citizens.
That’s why Jesus says to Martha, “Mary has chosen something that cannot be taken away from her.” Interestingly, Jesus is using a verb that is in the future – Mary has chosen to invest herself in something that will last eternally. What is it? She has placed herself at the feet of Jesus, which in those days was a posture of discipleship. Mary realizes that her relationship to Jesus is her identity – she is drawing her joy and vitality from him. Jesus isn’t telling us to be lazy (after all, this story fits in immediately after the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus urges us to invest ourselves in the care of the poor!). He is telling us that we must find our complete identity in him rather than anxiously trying to build our identity on completing our to-do list, or on our professional or personal accomplishments
If you sense that you are overly busy, if you are feeling burned out, or if the demands of your schedule require you to neglect priorities, it’s time to ask the Holy Spirit to help you evaluate your life. Seeking God’s wisdom, ask…
So, “How are you?” If your knee-jerk reaction to this question is “Busy!”, perhaps it’s time to catch your breath. You may be anxious about many things, but Jesus offers us the rest of knowing and believing that in him, we may rest.