In that funny timing only God can orchestrate, the biblical story of Mary and Martha showed up in my quiet time right on the heels of writing a recent blog post, which I ended with the words, “Lord, what am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to follow you? Am I placing too much fear in ‘the right decision’ and not enough trust in your provision?“
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.Luke 10:38–42 (English Standard Version)
I’d love to think I’m a Mary: the quiet one who is attentive to Jesus’ words — who takes the time out of her otherwise busy day to spend time with Jesus. She knows he’s what really matters, more than anything else.
But most of the time I’m a Martha: running around like a confused bumblebee, bumping into everything and everyone in my hurried attempt to do my work well and take full advantage of this blessed little life I’ve been given. It sounds like that should be a good thing. After all, our world glorifies work. Check things off my list, work harder than everybody else, climb the ranks, get noticed, and I’m good to go.
Surprise, surprise, Jesus chides Martha (and me) for this mentality. Instead, he quietly praises Mary’s priorities and tells Martha to redirect her gaze from “much serving” to simply sitting at the Lord’s feet and “listening to his teaching.” Further, he does not undermine her distress. He acknowledges it and does not put her down for feeling overwhelmed and upset. Yet he offers her comfort and soul-rest.
One morning, I woke up exhausted, eyelids and limbs heavy with sleep deprivation. After hitting snooze at least four or five more times, I had less than ten minutes before getting online for my internship. Grumbling, I decided I’d read the Bible later at night rather than before work, because I “didn’t have the energy to get anything intellectual” from whatever I’d read. (Almost an exact replica of the nonsense in my head.) Before I could take another breath, God gently said, “I just want you to come.”
All God asks is that I come and receive his grace. It’s not up to me to bring all my grand (non-existent) expertise on scripture, nor is it my job to work hard and then come to God. Communion with God does not equate with my getting something cool out of my reading. And it’s not about what I bring — at all. Instead, communing with God is about what he longs to give. I just have to be still and listen.
The same applies to every other aspect of life, especially work. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28, ESV). It’s an open invitation to step into his presence and to trust him with our troubles and with our needs. Yes, we are called to do the good work God sets before us. As an artist, I’m called to tell redeeming stories that appeal to the beauty in this world which points to the Lord’s everlasting beauty — those new heavens and new earth, the new Eden to which we are traveling. But we are also called to do that work in rest, trusting that God carries everything else.
In the Gospel of Luke, the story of Mary and Martha falls between the parable of the Good Samaritan and an account of Jesus’ teachings on the Lord’s Prayer. The first is an example of good works, that fruit which stems from a heart grounded in Christ’s mercy and kindness. The second is an example of prayer, that channel through which God fills us with the resources we need to accomplish good work here on earth. We need both, and each is a reservoir that flows into the other, ultimately leading us back to Shepherd who desires to restore our hurting souls.
Our sin and brokenness don’t scare him. Instead, he reaches out, takes our hand, and pulls us out of the mire in love. “Trust Me,” he says. “Just trust Me.”