February 14, 2020
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Did you know that multitasking has been proven to be a horribly ineffective way of getting things accomplished? In 2009, a professor at Stanford University ran an experiment. The surprising results? Multitaskers were outperformed by “single taskers” in every category. Our minds simply cannot focus on two things at once. Instead, we are actually mentally bouncing back and forth between those two things—and our attention and execution suffers for both. In the midst of this perpetual back and forth, we also become extremely susceptible to outside distraction. Because we’ve trained our minds to jump away from a single focus, it often jumps to completely unrelated issues, problems, and opportunities.
We see this happening to Martha. Jesus and his entourage have arrived at her home. In pursuit of being a good hostess, she is “worried and upset about many things.” Contrast that with Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, “single-tasking.” Undoubtedly, a million things are calling for Mary’s attention in these verses. Yet she remains undistracted. What held her attention so completely, do you think? What was Jesus saying that made everything else fade into the background for her? It could have been affirmation, encouragement, challenge, or even rebuke. We see Jesus do all of those things at various times in the gospels. Whatever it was, the core of their exchange is that Jesus is speaking and Mary is singularly focused on listening.
This passage is often boiled down to a simple “do what Mary did, don’t do what Martha did” distinction. But a more important contrast lies between the root motivations of these two women. Mary’s actions are rooted in a deep love and focus on Jesus. Had he asked her to stand up and help with the preparations, there’s no question that she would have done it with both passion and focus. The actions of Mary and Martha would, at that point, be the same. But at her core Mary was always listening. Her obedience and actions spring from that listening place. Martha, on the other hand, is trying to get as much done as possible. In doing so she’s lost sight of priorities and people. While Martha’s actions are “right”, her motivation is wrong. She is motivated by worry, striving, and frustration.
Reflect on your activities yesterday. Did they spring from a place of love and listening to the voice of Jesus? It’s unlikely that any of us listened perfectly, but it’s also unlikely that we completely ignored God throughout our day. Our goal for today is to spend more time listening to Jesus than we did yesterday. Where do you most need to stop worrying and being upset? That’s a great place to start listening. Looking forward to today, where do you anticipate that you will find yourself frazzled, in a rush, and frustrated with others? By the time you are in that circumstance, it will be too late to take a meaningful pause, which is why you should take a minute to pause now. See your busy calendar or conflicted relationship in your minds eye, and ask Jesus how HE sees those things. Ask him where there is an opportunity to respond in patience and love instead of anxiety and anger.