This week my too-much-to-do list includes connecting with my publisher about my next book, confirming the text and title for my next sermon, starting my class prep for Sabbath: A Life-Long, Life-Giving Rhythm, tending to my social media and the Facebook pages for my church and writers’ guild, picking up my husband’s medications from the pharmacy, calling his oncologist about his next appointment, getting my COVID-19 booster shot, connecting with family and friends by phone, text, and email, planning and preparing meals, doing dishes and laundry, and a long list of other ministry, household, and personal things to do, many of which I have dutifully brought forward week after week without at all managing to get them done.
With too much to do week after week, it strikes me that I am both Mary and Martha—like Mary intent on listening to Jesus as I reflect on Scripture and write, yet like Martha distracted by too many things to do in too little time:
Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:38-41)
On good days, I think of myself as practicing the fine art of knowing what can wait. Yes, it’s really okay for the dishes to wait while I meet a writing deadline. No one but me will mind if my email update gets sent later than I hoped. Perhaps Martha could have reduced her “many tasks” simply by letting some things wait too.
On other days, I feel in disarray with too many writing projects started and still in process, appointments getting re-scheduled and re-scheduled again, the kitchen counter full of dirty dishes, the laundry half put away. I’d really like to get something done.
But then I notice how Jesus responded to Martha:
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42)
Martha couldn’t do everything herself. And neither could Mary. As Jesus pointed out, Mary had simply chosen the better part. For her in that moment, that meant sitting and listening to Jesus. Of the many things that Martha had to do, what would have been the better part for her in that moment?
I appreciate this comment by Carlene Hill Byron:
The problem with Martha isn’t just that she works but that she works when she doesn’t need to. She creates work for her sake, not for the sake of those who receive it.
And Mary . . . are her hands truly idle? Or are they working hard at learning, when that’s the most valuable task at hand?
The story of Mary and Martha reminds us that at every moment, God has good work for each of us to do. We’re not called to do too much of a good thing, like Martha, trying to drag others into our frenzy of excessive activity. We’re not always called to sit and listen (although when Jesus is speaking, it’s certainly wise to listen).
The story of Mary and Martha tells me not to stop doing, but to do only what matters.
God has good work for each of us—for Mary and Martha long ago, for you and me today. And like Mary and Martha and all of us, I can’t do everything there is to do in this life—and I don’t have to. Instead, I can choose to do what matters at any given moment, whether that’s going for a walk with my husband, or preparing a meal, or working on my book manuscript, or taking a nap, or talking on the phone with a family member. There is time enough to do what matters.
So this year instead of choosing a single word like healing, or journey or blossom, I find myself most drawn to this phrase, to this act of faith: choose the better part. It’s another element in my fine art of knowing what can wait. Instead of being overwhelmed by too much to do, I’m free simply to choose the better part, and let other things wait at least for that moment.
I’m eager to see how choosing the better part will unfold for me this year. If you’ve already found that sweet spot where everything’s just right, I’d love to learn from you. If you have too much to do or not enough, I hope we can encourage each other along the way. This year let’s choose the better part.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Of all the good things in life, how do you know what is the better part for you?
For more on writing and other acts of faith,