‘Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’Luke 10:41-42
We can all identify with Martha’s plea. She is filled with good intentions, busy doing good things and yet she feels frazzled, drained and taken advantage of. She is “working for the Lord” but she feels left out and jealous of Mary’s closeness with Jesus.
Jesus’ response doesn’t dismiss the importance of what Martha was doing. He isn’t ungrateful for the hospitality that Martha is providing (no doubt Mary was also very active in these activities throughout their stay). But, he calls out her frazzled busyness. She is “anxious and worried about many things.” Her center is off. She’s forgotten why she is doing these things in the first place – and for whom.
A Whirlpool of Frenzy
I fall in this little whirlpool all the time. Always have. Not least in my ministry. I start out being inspired, motivated and compelled by Jesus to go out and make disciples and end up acting like the fate of the world depends on my ideas, my plans, my programs, our church, whatever! And this certainly pours out in other aspects of my life. How are my relationships doing? Am I a good enough mother? Will I have enough money to live on when I am older. How do we solve the huge issues facing our world? I am worried and anxious about many things.
“But few things are needed – or indeed only one.” I read that and I take a deep sigh of relief. My focus is drawn back to God. I read the Psalm: “My God is my rock in whom I seek refuge” and for a moment I remember my place in the grand cosmos and let go of the responsibility that isn’t mine. I abide.
But how many moments later am I back in a frenzy? How long will it be until I am forced to stop again and remember my place? And then, I start thinking it is irresponsible to think all of these demands on my time and energy aren’t my responsibility? No, there is only one thing – only one responsibility. Only one thing that is required. And in fact, it is the only way to make sense of a life and all the mini-responsibilities that come with it.
What makes us frenetic and anxious is making all of those other things into the “one” thing. It is a mis-ordering of our focus and our lives.
CREATIVE EXERCISE: Take a second and pull out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. On your paper, make a small dot for every responsibility, worry or “thing on your plate.” Once you’ve added as many dots as you can think of, sit back and ask yourself: “where is my primary focus?” Where is your focus today? Right now? Does it shift? How do all these pieces make sense together in your life? Now, find the middle of the little dots and make a giant dot. Notice how giving a focal point suddenly gives context to the little dots.
A Double Life
Once a Rabbi was counseling a friend who was concerned he was leading a “double life” by having both a sacred calling and a secular career. Rabbi Hutner replied;
Beloved friend, God forbid that you should see yourself as leading a double life. ‘Whoever prolongs the word “One” prolongs his days and years.’ Therefore throughout your life you should be one of those who prolongs the “One” – [focusing on] unity, not duality. It would grieve me very much if this point were not apparent to you. Many dots scattered here and there certainly constitute a multiplicity, but the same number of dots ordered around a single point at the center form one circle. This is your duty in life, to place at the center of your life the “One”, and then you need have no worry about dualities. Every new dot you acquire will then merely expand the circle, but its unity will remain.To Heal a Fractured World, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Pg. 249.
We all have a sacred calling (to love and glorify the Lord) and many, many “secular” responsibilities (including our career). But, what Rabbi Hutner points out is that all things must come under the centrifugal force of the One. We abide with God not by leaving our day to day responsibilities but by ordering our heart and focus around the One Thing. It is within this arrangement that a framework begins to emerge and we find a context in which our lives begin to make sense.
And don't forget - church, specific prayer activities, reading the Bible, spiritual disciplines are little dots – not "The One Thing!" Mistaking practices or things we do to get close to God for God is idolatry. Nothing is “The One” except God. The presence of the One Thing is something that permeates and flows through our whole lives. It shapes and gives meaning to all the little dots.
Abiding and “The One Thing” Part 2: “Yeah, But How?”
Lisa Smith, Pastor/Artistic Director, Convergence
This blog post is taken from curriculum being written for soul|makers and was made possible by a Pastoral Study Grant on Artists as Culture Makers from the Louisville Institute and the Lilly Endowment. 2021