Cancer has hit our family. If you watched me closely, you could tell something is up. I’ve gone into “nesting mode” (aka organizing and cleaning) and “baking mode.” Two behaviors I distinctly remember engaging in the last couple of times cancer hit our family. It’s almost a compulsion: cancer is diagnosed, then the compulsion hits to clean or bake. It’s almost like a need to assume some sense of control in some area of life where we have otherwise lost all semblance of control.
My initial thought is that “I can’t help it. It’s what I do. When the going gets tough, I get doing.” But the Holy Spirit reminds me that I do have a choice. I can choose that old familiar pattern of coping, or I can choose peace. He won’t choose for me, but He does always offer a choice.
Then He reminds me of one of my favorite stories in Scripture. I suspect it’s one of my favorites because I can relate. Perhaps you can too. And depending on what season I am in, reflects which side of the situation I relate to best. The story is from Luke 10:38-42.
As the story goes, Jesus and his disciples were traveling. During their travels, they decided to visit with longtime friends and sisters, Mary and Martha. Just as with most siblings, Mary and Martha were quite different from each other. I suspect Martha was the oldest: she was a doer, an achiever. Martha had her “to-do list” in hand and would never sit and relax until her list was complete. But I know, and perhaps you do as well, that the problem with that mindset is that the list is never complete. Just as soon as the laundry is done, someone throws in another sash or tunic to be washed. And just as soon as the last plate is dried, another fork or spoon is set by the sink to be washed. Martha prided herself on the things she accomplished, and she derived her value and her worth on her usefulness.
Mary was most likely the youngest in the family. She looked up to her sister Martha, but she didn’t want to be like her. She lived a calmer, more peaceful existence. She did what had to be done, but she didn’t go searching for things to fill her time. She had also probably learned through the years that there was no urgency in rushing to get things done because Martha was always three steps ahead. Mary was content to handle life as it came to her. She likely enjoyed the meals that Martha prepared but Mary didn’t offer to cook them with or for her.
What I’ve always appreciated is that nowhere in Scripture does it say anything bad about the tasks that Martha was doing. In fact, Scripture suggests her tasks were necessary and helpful. Luke 10:40 says that Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made…”
Busyness is often undertaken in an attempt to numb the aching of our hearts. We also often look for worldly validation and appreciation when we feel unsure of ourselves or our circumstances. Martha likely prided herself on being able to meet the needs of others, and surely felt good when praised for her hospitality and sacrificial diligence.
Scripture gives a sense for the tenor of Martha’s emotional well-being when she’d been giving tirelessly of herself but not receiving the recognition and validation she desperately needed and the peace she sought: “…She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Mary, on the other hand, likely had many things that needed to be done as well, but took advantage of the rare opportunity to be in the presence of Jesus, sit at His feet, learn from Him, and be ministered to by Him. Nothing she could do could be more important to her present or her future than that. Mary knew the secret to keeping her peace in the moment and for the future: spending time in His presence, despite what the world screamed at her to be more important.
Jesus was gentle but corrective in His reply to Martha’s plea: “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” (v. 41-42).
How often, during the chaotic, stressful, frightening times of life, do we try to beat back the raging seas or staggering mountains that threaten our peace, when in reality, the very best thing is being still at His feet and letting Him command charge over everything that concerns us?
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Will you choose the better option?
In Him, #PeacePrevails!
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Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Speaking from personal and professional experience, a neuropsychologist unpacks what depression is, shows how it affects us spiritually, and offers hope for living the abundant life.
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