Being “Mary” in this “Martha” World
How to have a personal relationship with God in this busy life.
he alarm clock goes off and its 7 A.M. Today is a big day. You’ve got a huge exam at 9 A.M. Then you have back-to-back presentations on either side of lunch. You finish the work day by meeting with your professor to discuss your declining performance lately. Once the work day is done, you’ve got 1 hour to study followed by a get-together with friends for a birthday and conclude with a meeting for a group project that’s due next week. By the time you get home, it’s close to midnight and you’ve only got a few hours before you wake up and do it all over again. Does this sound familiar to anybody?
The fact of the matter is that you and I are busy. Everyone is busy. And next year is going to be busier than this year and the next one after that will be even more. Even Abouna is busy. Some might argue that he’s busy doing God’s work, it’s different. But if you’re too busy to spend personal time with God, then you’re just plain too busy. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to be a busy person to be a busy person. What do I mean? Sometimes you have nothing to do but you’re so distracted that you can’t focus on anything. Which career path should I choose? What should I eat tonight? Where should I go this weekend? In the end, my heart and my mind are too busy for God.
The thing about busyness is that it’s not an external thing. It’s internal and it often becomes a way of life. Unfortunately, when we’re busy, the first person that we kick out of our life is God. He can’t fit in our 5 minute slot between project X and project Y. He can’t fit in during halftime of the Superbowl. So do we add more time to our day? Is there way to squeeze just one more hour in? I guarantee that if we added one more hour to the day, we would simply add one more hour’s worth of stuff to squeeze in.
So what’s the answer? One of the best examples from the Bible that explain the solution can be found in the gospels when Jesus comes to visit the two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha complains to our Lord that Mary has left all the work to her while listening to Him, but Jesus responds that Mary has chosen the right thing to do. Can Martha be blamed? She had guests! Someone had to clean for the guest, bring tea, and prepare the fatted calf. You could argue that she really had done nothing wrong.
I struggled with this story for a long time because I felt for Martha. How could I hope to accomplish all the things I wanted to without leaving something out? Can I really serve with all my heart, love others with all my heart, do well in my studies with all my heart, be successful at work with all my heart, and then give my entire heart to God? Perhaps the best explanation I ever came across was from St. John Chrysostom. Martha’s heart was in the right place after all and the Lord did not actually blame her for serving. But according to St. John, she was simply busy at the WRONG time. During the time of prayer and worship where she should have been sitting at the feet of the Lord, she was instead too busy with serving. You see this in the church today when people are busy with cooking food in the kitchen at a time designated for prayer. Or you might see a servant who did not have time to prepare their lesson and so, is forced to prepare during the sermon. Again, this servant is not doing a bad thing. After all, he is preparing the word of God to preach to others. But he’s doing it at a time which is to be dedicated to prayer and worship.
In my daily life, I can think of plenty of times where I choose not to sit at the feet of our Lord and instead concern myself with things that do not benefit me. Again, there are things like television, Internet, studies, work friends – these are not wrong. But once I do them at the wrong time, a time that should have been devoted to God, then I understand what Martha feels like. And I yearn for the time that Mary has with our Lord, but I find myself as busy as Martha if not busier. So which one are you, Mary or Martha?