Luke 10:38-42; Matthew 6:19-21
The Rev. Tom Herbek
September 4, 2016
Throughout my life, the Mary-Martha story has been playing out inside of me. I am a do-er who really enjoys accomplishing things. It is a very strong driver inside of me. But I also know I need to find time for renewal, because doing is not everything in life.
I read a reflection on life by a man who had a job that provided a company car and a driver. He describes how the driver seemed very distant:
No matter how much I tried to chat my driver up, however, he remained distant, responding correctly but coolly. Finally, I asked him if there was a problem. Had I offended him in some way? He tried to duck the question but eventually responded with classic New York directness. He said, “All you seem to think about or do is work, and it doesn’t even look like you enjoy yourself. I guess you’re nice enough, but frankly, from my point of view, your life is real boring. ”
Life is more than work. It’s not all there is to life. We need to have some balance between work and rest. But we do need to be able to do something. The writer who relates this life-changing conversation is John O’Neil, and he entitled it The Paradox of Success: When Winning at Work Means Losing at Life.
I’m afraid that I still have a lot to learn about this. My inner voice is a little bit of Mary, however, and a lot of Martha. I can’t imagine not accomplishing something every day. I guess that I come by this naturally, though. My dad retired at age 70. After three weeks of retirement, he had another job, and he only retired from that one at 87 1/2 because of my mom’s dementia, and she could no longer be alone.
We all- no matter our age- need to feel that we are accomplishing something meaningful. Not all work, not all rest. We need to have a balance. If all we do is rest, we think we are not valuable to society, to our families, to ourselves; this is one of the hardest things for new retirees to deal with, for people laid off, or for those who must stop working because of illness or injury. We have been trained to think: What is the value of someone who can no longer work? Yet, we get going so fast sometimes when we do work that we don’t really accomplish very much.
Today everyone seems to be fond of multi-tasking. Even when we’re talking on the phone at work, we’re also checking our email. And I can’t count how often I’ve been standing and talking with someone and they pull out their phone to check a text message. Perhaps that is a comment on my communication skills, but I hope not!
My best ever multi-tasking observation occurred on I-490 one morning at rush hour going into Rochester, watching the driver in front of me putting on her eye makeup using the rearview mirror while driving 70 miles per hour in heavy traffic.
Gene Mueller once sent me an e-mail that describes many of us when we try to multi-task a little too much:
I decide to wash the car.
I start toward the garage and notice the mail on the table.
Ok, I’m going to wash the car.
But first I’m going to go through the mail.
I lay the car keys down on the desk, discard the junk mail and I notice the trashcan is full.
OK I’ll just put the bills on my desk and take the trashcan out, but since I’m going to be near the mailbox anyway, I’ll pay these few bills first.
Now, where is my checkbook?
Oops, there’s only one check left.
My extra checks are in my desk.
Oh, there’s the Coke I was drinking.
I’m going to look for those checks.
But first I need to put my Coke further away from the computer.
Oh maybe I’ll pop it into the fridge to keep it cold for a while.
I head towards the kitchen and my flowers catch my eye because they need some water.
I set that can of Coke on the counter and uh oh! There are my glasses. I was looking for them all morning! I’d better put them away first.
I fill a container with water and head for the flowerpots ~- Aaaaaagh!
Someone left the TV remote in the kitchen. We’ll never think to look in the kitchen tonight when we want to watch television so I’d better put it back in the family room where it belongs.
I splash some water into the pots and onto the floor.
I throw the remote onto a soft cushion on the sofa and I head back down the hall trying to figure out what it was I was going to do?
End of Day: The car isn’t washed, the bills are unpaid, the trashcan is overflowing, the Coke is sitting on the kitchen counter, the flowers are half watered, there’s a water spot on the floor, the checkbook still only has one check in it, the remote is missing, and I can’t seem to find my car keys!
When I try to figure out how come nothing got done today, I’m baffled because I KNOW I was busy all day long!!!
Sometimes our efforts become so scattered that we really don’t become involved enough in what we’re doing to make a difference. Despite all of our activity, the reality is that many people are under – rather than over – involved. For many people, their busyness reflects a condition of being scattered. Perhaps we actually need to be slowed down by some real involvement, whether our activity is a job, a game, a prayer or sleep. We need to find a way to have the involvement slow us down, from doing 20 things half-way, to doing one or two things well.
We need to be involved in whatever we do. We are lucky when we enjoy every part of life and get involved in it. Allowing people to get involved, to do something meaningful, to make a difference, to enjoy life, is a vision, a dream, a hope we can have. We must continue to find ways to keep people involved in society, in life, in this community, no matter what their age is. But let us also balance our doing, our work with our leisure and our involvement in all of life. That’s the only way to live all of life.
It may take us many years to figure it out, to learn the balance between work and renewal.
Dave Barry wrote the following “18 Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn”:
- If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings”.
- There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.”
- People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.
- And when God, who created the entire universe with all of its glories, decides to deliver a message to humanity, He WILL NOT use, as His messenger, a person on cable TV with a bad hairstyle.
- You should not confuse your career with your life.
- No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.
- When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy.
- Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.
- Never lick a steak knife.
- Take out the fortune before you eat the cookie.
- The most powerful force in the universe is gossip.
- You will never find anybody who can give you a clear, compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.
- You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.
- There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age 11.
- The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.
- The main accomplishment of almost all organized protests is to annoy people who are not in them.
- A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.
- Your friends love you anyway.
And I would add to Dave Barry’s comments: God loves you anyway.
We need to slow down, even in our doing, to the point where we are really involved in what we are doing, in life, in relationships. We need to help people to have an opportunity to do something valuable, no matter what their age is or their circumstances are. We need to slow down and get involved in life enough that we learn from it. And we need to remember that our friends love us anyway. And so does God.
Certainly the Martha part of us is vital in our life, and on Labor Day weekend, we celebrate that part of who we are.
But let us not forget to also nourish the Mary part of who we are, the part that chooses to refresh and renew our spirit, and that knows that God does indeed love us anyway.