I mopped the sweat off my brow with my crumbled up shirt sleeve, the steam from the pot of delicious smelling food wafting up to greet me as I stirred. My face was ruddy from hours of laboring over a hot stove. I glanced up quickly, noting all the fun everyone else was having in the next room, but also the impatience that can only come from hunger. Everyone wanted to eat!
“Almost done!” I shouted out to everyone, though no one was asking.
On this, our first big celebration together, I was determined to have everything be perfect. I had set the table the day before. Placed my centerpiece out early in the day, and worked at making a perfectly yummy and memorable meal for everyone.
Only here’s the thing. No one else really cared too much about all the effort. In a house full of mostly kids, all the nuances and niceties were pretty much lost. In the meanwhile, everyone else was occupying themselves with card games, wrestling matches on the carpeted floor, or playing something creative born from one of their imaginations. People fluttered over from time to time to ask if I needed anything, gracious offers which I accepted. But mostly I was missing out on all the fun.
Finally, we all sat down and said grace. We ate. We laughed. But then there were all the dishes to clean, all the mess to deal with. Normally, I don’t mind. But today I was struck by the glaring fact that I missed out on the majority of the bonding and fun. Sure, people joined me here in there in the kitchen, but it wasn’t the same.
As my hubby and l laid down at the end of a very full day, he whispered, “You know you didn’t have to do all that. I would’ve preferred to just have you with us.”
I sighed in resignation. “You’re right. Everybody had fun while I missed out. No more elaborate meals during big family events. Promise.”
As he kissed my forehead good night, I immediately thought of Martha. No, not Martha Stewart, whose vibe I’d clearly channeled all day. Martha from the Bible. Also whose vibe I’d clearly channeled.
“Lord,” she complained to Jesus, “don’t you care that my sister has let me do all the work by myself?” Translation – I’ve been laboring my bootie off to get the perfect meal together for you and all these visitors, Jesus, but my sister has been sitting down all day just hanging out with you. Wha-a-at?!
She adds in for good measure, “Tell her to help me!”
Trust me. I’m sure Martha had already glared at her sister Mary from a far and had thought many, many long-suffering thoughts about how her sister always got to have fun while she had to do all the hard stuff. But thing is no one asked Martha to do all of these things. She took it upon herself to do it, I’m sure initially with a heart that wanted to be a blessing to others. But as the preparations stretched out, she realized she was missing out. Surely someone should help her finish the good she was trying to do for Jesus — like her lazy sister Mary!
I can almost picture Jesus as he answers Mary, gently shaking his head and answering with a small smile. “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things, but only thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Ouch. I kinda did that with my family. I got so caught up in what I wanted to do for them that I forget to actually think about whether or not they would actually want it.
As I think about it, I realized I can do the very same thing with God. I get caught up in all these things that he’s never really asked me to do, working my tail off. I forget that my Creator never asked me to be the perfect mom, wife and friend. He never asked me to serve until I drop, or to give and give until there’s nothing left. He’s not looking for elaborate spiritual meals from me full of fasting and self-sacrifice. All he wants is to have me with him. In relationship.
There is a powerful passage in Isaiah 58 that really cuts my heart. The nation of Israel, much like Martha, is complaining to God that they are doing all of these things for him, but he is not answering. “Why do we fast and you don’t look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?,” they complain (v. 3).
God’s response? “Well, here’s why. The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is you do as you please and drive your employees too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?” (v. 3-5).
I can get so caught up in my agenda for God sometimes, I forget to actually ask him each day what his agenda for me actually is. And guess what? A lot of times it’s nothing. Just to be mindful of his presence throughout my day. To listen for his gentle whisper. To sit with him in my pain and in my joy. That’s it. And yet that’s everything!
Yes, even good things can be done with the wrong heart. My “work” is to walk closely with the Lord, to mirror my Creator’s heart to others. Not because it earns me anything, but because I love him and simply want to be like him.
God sums it up best: “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places ... You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again” (Isaiah 59:9-12).
Yes and Amen!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT As you read about Martha and the nation of Israel, think about how their lessons can apply to your life. Are you striving in ways God hasn’t called you to, or taking on God’s calling as if it all depended upon you? Are your prayers more worry than connection and surrender to your Creator? Make a decision to ask for His will for you at the start of each day, fully inviting him into your purposes and plans so He can guide you into what He has in store for you. Remember—it may look very different than you anticipated. And it will begin to allow you to glow within the darkness and bubble over with deep-seeded joy.
PRAYER Lord, thank you for reminding me that in a world of competing demands, agendas and expectations, especially my own, you are the one thing that most matters. I fully invite you in to this day, asking you to guide me in YOUR path, not my own. Help me to remember what matters most, and to keep my heart and focus on you. I love you Papa. Thank you for your rich mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
To learn more about author & motivational speaker Barb Lownsbury or to have her speak at your next event, CLICK HERE.
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