On the One Thing

 

“Martha, Martha.”

She must have frozen at His voice. Was it gentle, scolding, smiling, stern?

We’ve probably all been there. Rushing around, doing doing doing, trying to cook, trying to impress. Meanwhile, she just sits there, NOT DOING ANYTHING TO HELP.

I’ve been thinking about Martha this Thanksgiving week, the story about when Jesus pops over for dinner. Luke tells it this way:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. 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!”

“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.”

It’s so easy to judge Martha, 2,000 years and a Bible later. We read this story and tsk tsk her, wondering how she could ever be so clueless as to be worried about the hummus and naan when GOD’S VERY OWN SON was hanging out in her living room.

Martha was the practical one.

By the time Jesus arrived at Martha’s doorstep, His ministry was picking up speed, and there were a lot of people following Him around. In fact, just a few paragraphs earlier, Luke relates the story of the 72 disciples Jesus sent out, and how they came back rejoicing to Him that even the demons submit to us in your name. They may have been rejoicing right up to Martha’s front door, and who can blame her for looking out the window in horror, wondering how she was ever going to feed them all.

Martha, Martha.

And there was Jesus, dusty and tired, surrounded by perhaps a few dozen of His closest followers, relaxing, talking, laughing, teaching. And who is that scooched up right under His very sandals? Could it be? Is that my lazy sister Mary?

Yes, if we are honest with ourselves, we have all had our Martha moments. Moments when we feel unhelped, unnoticed, unimportant, unloved. When maybe we even feel that we’re the only ones doing the right thing, and the rest of the world is a bunch of slackers.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Outrageous.

Martha spouts off at THE LORD and tells Him to tell her sister to helpoutwithdinnerforthelove. Did Jesus get angry, rebuke, scorn? All we have are the few words of Jesus that Luke records, but when I imagine the scene, I picture Jesus with a small smile teasing the corner of his mouth, His eyes dancing with love and fire.

Martha, Martha. I see you working over there. I see your heart, Martha. I know you want only to please, to bless. And, yes, we have traveled far and we are hungry and you are seeing to it that our simple needs are met. I so appreciate that.

I see you, Martha. I see you, but come over here. Come closer. I have something important to tell you.

Worry and disorder are not of My kingdom, Martha. Your distracted mind and troubled heart have no place in My presence. My kingdom is a peaceable one, even in the midst of strife, yes, even then. Especially then. Yes, we are many and we are hungry, but did you not hear how I fed the 5,000 with but a few loaves and fish? I AM not worried, therefore you need not worry. Don’t you trust Me?

We are constantly told as parents that we should never compare our children, so it has always surprised me that Jesus tells Martha to regard her sister Mary, sitting at His feet. Few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

My own kids love to tease each other about who is “the fave,” but of course they know there is room enough in my heart to love each of them with an abandon that sometimes hurts. So surely the Creator of the universe, Maker of hearts, knows His children well enough, knows the love between the two sisters, knows that Martha would not resent the comparison.

Only one thing is needed.

It’s a picture of the cross before the cross. That’s the whole point: Jesus isn’t asking us to perform, to work, to earn His love. He already loves us, has loved us from the beginning of time. We don’t need to rush around, to jump through spiritual hoops, to do or be anything other than ourselves.

Only one thing is needed, and, at first glance, it sure looks like the least practical thing. Sit with Me. Be with Me. Listen to Me. Choose ME.

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

I have to say this is quite the relief as the chores begin to stack up from a day spent giving thanks. I’ll just sit here with Him. The dishes aren’t going anywhere.

Plus maybe if I wait, somebody else will do them.

 

 

 

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On What I Miss About Being the Mom of Littles

I was sitting in church the other day marveling at all the wee ones bouncing, crawling, drooling, spilling, and giggling all around me. We have a remarkably fertile church – I think there’s an actual term in Christian-ese called “biological expansion of the congregation” – and watching all the littles and their beautiful mommies and daddies brings me great joy.

One never knows when a wave of nostalgia might break. Seeing all those littles called to mind the many things I miss about being the mom of littles, now that my four babies can dress themselves and load the dishwasher and roll their eyes. Here are just a few of them:

~Naps…Yep, not gonna lie, the struggle to get a house full of toddlers and infants to sleep all at the same time was a gargantuan challenge. As soon as one would drift off, sweet milk seeping from the corner of rosebud lips, another would pop his or her curious tousled head up out of the covers and ask, “Can I get up now?” Dear One, it’s only been five minutes. NO YOU MAY NOT GET UP NOW. Mommy needs at least an hour before she can cope with the afternoon. One ridiculous year, I had not only my own children, but also the daycare kids I watched to “put down” (that sounds so deliciously final, doesn’t it?) for their naps. Every day, one little, whose mom confessed, “I can never get him to nap; it’s just too hard,” protested during this most holy time with a violence totally out of proportion to what I was asking of him. (It’s a nap, Cooper, not the SAT’s). I, being the ADULT, and hence, in charge, would wait out his tearful protests until at last, with great drama, he would succumb. Hours later, he would awake in full scream, always with a diaper full of poo; I suppose he thought that made us even. But when it worked…all of us deep in REM unison, the house’s hushed ticking like the rocking of a boat, it was a marvelous and spiritual thing. Of course, I can nap now. But without the struggle, it doesn’t feel nearly as victorious.

~Nursing… Are you kidding me? Is there anything more intimate and soothing and sacred than nursing the blood of your blood, flesh of your flesh? (Well, perhaps the event that inspired the baby’s genesis, but this is a post about littles). Morning, noon, and night – and mid-morning, late morning, late afternoon, late evening, midnight, dawn, and any other time an empty belly cries – mothers are given the awesome privilege of actually feeding their human babies with the extract of their own bodies. This is a deep, deep mystery, and one that I dearly miss. Young mothers, may I suggest that never again will you be able to meet your child’s express need so precisely than when you are able to nurse them from misery to bliss? Stop, sit, cuddle, coo. With all the other crazy that comes with the territory of being a new mom, I think God really knew what He was doing with this one.

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~Smaller battles… Honestly, I can remember times when the little’s decision whether to wear a sensible outfit or his Pokemon costume to a playdate was a battle to the death (and looking back, why did I even care?) Now that my littles are big, however, and can speak with real words and use sneaky logic, it is harder to know who’s actually in charge. Smaller people, smaller battles. But make no mistake: we are exhorted to train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Train, train, train with everything you’ve got because, sooner than you’d ever believe was possible, your little will be asking for the car keys or talking to (gasp) girls, and unless the seeds you have sown are faithfulness and self-control, you will be fielding phone calls from the police or your son’s school (or so I’ve heard…wink…sigh).

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~They stay put… When you put a baby down, say, on the floor or in a jog stroller, as a general rule, that’s where you will find them when you look for them again. Teenagers have way too many moving parts and are unwilling to be tied down to anything as tedious as an agenda. I’m heading out to hang with the boys, Ma, I’ll see ya later is the most specific information I can expect from my 19-year-old on any given Friday night. Which boys? Out where? Define “later.” It’s constantly in flux, and for this reason, I am grateful for the iPhone. On the other hand, that astonished look on a baby’s face when you pop yours back into their field of vision after a short hiatus is as comical as it is dear. Wait! You were back there the whole time? Nobody told me! I miss that.

~ Bedtime… Don’t get me wrong. Spending the day with a little, or a herd of them, can be wild and unpredictable and exhilarating. I loved every waking moment I spent with my wiggly littles. But no matter how you may feel, you’ve gotta put your game face on every morning, especially when it involves a trip to the grocery store or your in-laws. Days with littles are looooong. At the end of the day, though, when all the tears have been kissed away and they’re bathed and jammied and tucked in tight, the most magical thing happens. You open their favorite book and even though they’ve heard goodnight comb, and goodnight brush, goodnight nobody, goodnight mush a million and one times before, and even though you might still be harboring a wee bit of resentment over the jelly incident at lunch, the warmth and the stillness close in until the universe compacts into just the two of you. Your breathing slows as a chubby hand reaches out to twirl a strand of your hair. Your cheeks touch. You whisper prayers. Soon, your little’s tiny body is curled up like a comma and you wonder if it’s even worth it to get up and move to your own bed. These days, I’m lucky if I outwit, outlast, or outplay my bigs’ bedtimes. More often than not, I’m poking my head into their room on the way to making the next day’s coffee and smiling at the bulky heap of their cusp-of-adulthood bodies, so reassuringly there, a shadow of what once-was. I suppose this, too, is magical, but not at all in the same way.

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My biggest little is married now. And though I miss her once babyfine curls and small sweet voice, I am comforted by this profound truth found in the book of Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…

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One day, she and her brothers might have littles of their own, and what joy will fill my heart then!

The apostle Paul reminds us that it is not God’s way to leave us in one place for too long. He writes: When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Our wise God has given us seasons to enjoy, and it’s good to revel in the now-ness of them as well as to look back and treasure.

As much as we would love to linger, He moves us ever-on, growing and learning and becoming, so that one day, we will stand before Him in all our Christ-likeness, no longer in-part but, at last, complete.  

On Sticking

This one might be a bit raw, but I suppose, as an English teacher, I’ve preached the credo “write what you know” enough to believe it. Our stories are our own.

Let’s just start with this: God is love.

Not our human, dependent-upon, fickle, memememe kind of love – the kind that falters or bolts when we’re met with an unkind word, a disappointing action, an unfulfilled expectation.

No, God’s love is a love that sticks. It sticks through our prodigal wanderings, it sticks through our lusts, it sticks through our greed and our judgements and our indifference; it sticks through our snappish demands, our overt cruelty, our not-so-benign neglect and our worrisome fears. God’s love stuck itself right up there on the cross where, despite the brutish spikes and the mocking spittle and the bloody thorns, its final words were ever-still looking out for our best good: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

God is love. God loves. There is nothing and no one like our Love-God, and not even the most sacrificial, pure, holy, human love can approach the mighty, reckless, awe-ful, fearsome love of God.

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I was married once.

My husband and I fell in love in the usual way – with laughter and shared pursuits, and eyes that held over candles, and sweetness and emotion and abandon. For over two decades, we woke up in the same bed, oftentimes with a nursing baby or a sick child or a couple of cats or all of the above alongside. We propped each other up when I began to unravel under the strain of motherhood or he was fired from his dream-job or our house burnt down or the kids took turns rebelling. Friends died and family members struggled and we moved more times than I care to count, but through it all, I thought: this is it. This is love.

Until, one day, it wasn’t anymore.

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I missed the signs, wrapped up as I was in my selfish self, and thinking, how lucky am I – he’ll never leave, and though the silences were growing more alarming and his business trips seemed to blend one-into-the-other until he was away more than he was home, I nevernevernever thought he would walk away. Nights I would sit upstairs in our bedroom reading fictional accounts of people who sounded like they had it all together and he would sit downstairs in the “family” room playing iPad solitaire. It was desperate and heartbreaking, but I thought – we have time. This is rough, but we have time. Someday this will get better and we’ll have a great laugh, together.

Falling-love is easy. Sticking-love is not.

Sadly, that someday became instead a one-day when he said I can’t, and I won’t and I’m done.

How does one recover from such a thing? Get up every day and move about the world as if, as if, as if I could still eat and still sleep and still will my heart to beat on and still think can I make it back to the safety of the car before I break down for the umpteenth time today? Still smile at my children?

Still believe that God is love?

In the Gospel of John, the disciple Jesus loved, (this was how John oftentimes described himself; good ol’ dependable John!) recounts how many followers of Jesus began to fall away from Him when Jesus said these shocking words: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This was obviously a hard thing for Jesus’s twelve main men to hear. Was this Jesus crazy? What could His words possibly mean?

Without getting into the theology of the richness of what Jesus meant – how His sacrifice will nourish us if we are willing to identify ourselves with His suffering – what happened next is what we really need to remind ourselves of when our own earthly sufferings startle us to attention.

For when they began to question and argue, Jesus asks His disciples point-blank: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” He wanted to hear from their own mouths where they stood with Him. Although being, of course, Jesus, He already knew.

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 

Good ol’ impetuous Peter! Answering a question with a question. He’d been around Jesus long enough to have learned some of the Master’s nifty tricks. And he’d also been around Jesus long enough to know that there was no where else to go. Jesus’s words may have been shocking and hard – they still are, 2,000 years later – but they are life, hold eternal life.

You do not want to leave, too, do you, my daughter?

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Lord, to whom should I go? 

Where else can any of us go when the life we thought we were living suddenly strikes us on the heel? When the love we thought we knew drains away from us, leaving us empty and abraded? Or when we realize the things over which we thought we held sway – health, dreams, job, home, friends – are not actually ours to control? Never were.

Lord, to whom should I go?

Then comes His gentle answer. Come back to where you started, My child. Remember who I AM. I am love, your love, your best love. My love never falters, never runs, never leaves nor forsakes. My love is sweet and and light and affirming and constant, but I will tell you it can also be firm and heavy and corrective and bare.

My loves calls to you when you have forsaken my ways and are hiding in the trees. Adam, where are you?

My love cheers you on when you feel totally unqualified to do the things I have asked of you. Be strong and courageous, Joshua. Do not be afraid.

My love gives you purpose because I believe the best of you. Whom shall I send, Isaiah? Will you be my sent one?

My love fills you to overflowing so that, through you, I can bless others. Feed my lambs, Peter.

My love challenges you for your greatest good. Beloved, if you want to be my disciple you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me. For if you try to save your life, you will lose it, but when you lose your life for me, you will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?

My love both asks and answers the uncomfortable questions.

Jesus: You do not want to leave, too, do you?

Me: Well……

Jesus: My child, be sure of this: I am with you always, until the very end of the age.

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His liberating, uncompromising love is the flesh and blood of your life. It sticks. Yes, things might look pretty grim right now. They may feel jagged and merciless and unfair.

But His love can restore even that, yes, even that.

Human love can be patently unsticky. We are all, yes all, guilty of loving unstickily.

But that is why it is so amazing that we can with confidence listen to His love whispering to us in those bruised, tender places.

I am love.

I love.

Follow Me.

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