I am the youngest of 3. I have an older sister, 4 ½ years older than me, and older brother 6 years older. Although my brother is the eldest, my sister is the pillar of our family. She’s the one to text us when somebody’s birthday is coming up, and we’re like — ‘Oh yeah, it’s somebody’s birthday!’. She takes care of our parents’ needs the most. And she hosts all the family gatherings at her house. And she’s really good at it! She puts together the best cheese plates. And it’s so awesome because she puts together these cheeses and olives, with tiny cute toothpicks — I dunno where she buys em, variety of crackers, and she’s who I found out about The Unexpected Cheddar cheese from Trader Joe’s, it’s my favorite. If you don’t know about it, you’re welcome. Go get some. It’s amazing. And she’s just so natural at it. And we all gather around the table, reaching, eating, talking, drinking, laughing, all the while, my sister is constantly replenishing the spread with things that quickly run out, busting out another pack of the unexpected cheese as soon as it looks low. Most of us don’t even notice her doing this. It’s so natural and it’s always been this way. I’ve only recently noticed that she’s doing this, as my husband Eugene has joined our family gatherings, and himself being the pillar of his own family saw my sister and pointed it out. She still talks about that first family gathering where he noticed her taking out the trash while everyone’s watching TV in the living room. How she felt seen and it was so weird, and how nice it is to have someone notice her work.
We’re talking about how to “Be Present” today, in our series of The Jesus Model for Every Day Interactions, anchoring the point in the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42, where the two sisters are hosting Jesus at their house, and Martha is busy and Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teachings. Let’s hear what Jesus has to say and unpack that a little bit for our today’s context.
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary – verse 38
38Now as they (the disciples) went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The story is interesting to me because it seems like a very practical issue. And honestly, I can relate with both Martha and Mary, although in my family my sister is Martha and I’m Mary for sure. But in other ways, I’m very sympathetic to Martha. Many women know what this feels like in a more traditional role sense, where she’s doing a gazillion things that others don’t see — cooking, cleaning, beautifying, childbearing, and looking good while doing it all. And I’m interested in what Jesus is saying and what he means, because I’d love to sit and chat instead of running around — yas please!
I’m sympathetic to Martha because my mom was also a Martha. My father was a pastor, and as the pastor’s wife, especially in their generation, it’s a weird un-glorious role with expectation to be the host as the pastor’s wife, bring out tea, cut the fruit, be only gracious and serving, but of course no leading or teaching.
Many sermons have been preached from this text with the moral of the story being that learning about God is better than preparing a meal, washing dishes, or doing house work. I mean, somebody has to grocery shop, prep, cook, and clean! It doesn’t happen by magic! Some commentators have leaned in to raising women from traditional role of housework, to become disciples and theologians. Yes, good, but it seems weird to make comparison as to which is better… I mean, in just one chapter before, Luke 9, the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest, and Jesus answers “whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” I liked that because it wasn’t my favorite things to see only my dad get respect and honor from people, while my mom’s hard work, which too was ministry, went unappreciated.
And in Luke chapter 22, Jesus says — Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
I know it might feel like I’m making the text more complicated than it seems, but I think it’s important to unpack the story and see what Jesus is actually saying. It’s important because people have often used bible texts to defend something, taking a line out of a story and applying it with assumptions. So I don’t want us to just make assumptions about this text, simplifying it into a Christian jargon with just the takeaway of, “don’t be a martha!”
You know what I think? I think Jesus saw Martha even deeper than how she saw herself. You know how sometimes we project things unto others, things we haven’t reconciled within ourselves, we pick out at others. Martha was pointing to Mary, complaining, blaming,“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” and bossing Jesus around, “Tell her then to help me.” Something’s going on with her. And I think Jesus was not making a comparison about what kind of role is better, but trying to get to her heart.
You see, the work Martha was doing, we make assumptions that she was probably doing housework, sure she’s a woman hosting someone at her house, of course that’s what she would be doing, but that’s our lens of prenotions about that. The text says, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks;” And some translations have even added words like, “Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing” but the original text doesn’t say that. They added it for “clarification” or “to paint a picture”.
The original text simply says, Martha was distracted or anxious, about or with, many or a great number, service/help/ministry. The RSV translation says “by much serving” and the NRSV “by too many tasks.” These words are translations of the Greek word diakonia, which is usually translated as “service” or “ministry”. The word deacon is related to it.
Martha was caught up in ministry work. Instead of spending time with Jesus.
So, it isn’t that learning, talking, and thinking is better than manual labor work. Because servers of the table are greater than those who are being served. It’s that Martha was busy with ministry, when the thing that matters is not doing more ministry, being a better Christian by evangelizing, serving in church, being a blessing, but simply being seen by Jesus. Being captivated by Jesus, instead of being distracted.
And there are many of us, especially those who’ve been around the church longer, been Christian for a while, who need to hear this. Cause honestly, it’s easier for the church and pastors to teach to do something. Let’s serve here. Join this program. Go and do this. But all of those things should and will come naturally when we preachers point to the only thing that matters, being with Jesus. But it’s easier to get busy and see results, get things done and feel really productive. We’re all Martha’s! We’re a generation of multitasking and efficiency. Our culture values this. We’re all very highly capable, productive people. The world tells us that we can do it all. Be able to work at all times with access to email on our phones. “I’m reachable!” we say. I’ve heard friends talk about competitive environment at work, how they like to be the one who responds to an email at 11 PM, showing they are still working, or 6 AM, right when they wake up, even before their commute. We are a distracted and anxious generation.
But the thing is, we’re starting to see the harms of it all. A TIME magazine article titled, “Why Multitasking is Bad for You” says, “The neuroscience is clear: We are wired to be mono-taskers. One study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. And when the rest of us attempt to do two complex activities simultaneously, it is simply an illusion.” What? I gotta take that out of my resume. We were built this way. We were made to be “only one thing” as Jesus said. Not efficient. But to be with God.
Here’s another fascinating case for why we should embrace just being, instead of being efficient and busy. With mindfulness and contemplative meditation practices on the trend, we’re starting to see scientific evidence for their benefits. I got this from the NPR Ted Radio Hour podcast from last week’s episode called Attention Please, talking about our distractions and addiction to our cellphones. I learned that when we are not multitasking, not distracted, just sitting, we are doing a thing that neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists call, Autobiographical planning. It’s the thing that happens in the midst of day-dreaming, being bored, not doing anything, letting our minds wander. When you are doing this, apparently you’re igniting a network in your brain called the default mode, where your body goes on auto pilot, the mind gets actually more activated, tapping into the subconciousness, may I dare to say the divine within? It’s when you make connections between your life events or experiences, reflect and take note of things and create a narrative, and even solve problems or figure out a deeper understanding about ourselves.
But we don’t even give ourselves a chance to do this, because, we are busy. With notifications on our phones that’s commanding me to look at this! check this email! like this post! read this comment of a friend whom you haven’t talked to in years on a post you don’t care about but we’re connecting you — yay! The average person checks their email 74 times a day, and switches task on our computer 566 times a day, according to the studies of Dr. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics. What I found most fascinating and sad is that, she said that the more stressed we are, we tend to shift our attention more rapidly. And this one is hilarious — that the shorter amount of sleep one has gotten, the more times they check Facebook! We are stressed, tired, and more distracted than ever.
Like the experts say, I think the reason why we’re so distracted is because we are stressed. Because the present is maybe too much to handle, because the pain of the past or the fear of the future is too daunting. This is an area I have a personal experience, a struggle I’ve faced in my life. I found out this about me through a personality type system called the Enneagram. It’s kind of like the Myers-Briggs but instead of letters, it has 9 numbers. Each number is a type that represents a set worldview that you operate from. I’ve really enjoyed journeying with the Enneagram as a way to understand myself more in the past few years because it’s allowed me to really examine myself.
I’m an Enneagram number 7. They call it the epicurist or enthusiast. They’re generally super positive, optimistic, and fun! What I like about the Enneagram is that not only does it key in on your type as to how you tend to be, but it actually gets to why you do what you do. And usually it’s something pretty negative — a skewed view of the world, you might say — often times much to do with your earliest experiences of trauma. It’s wired with how we react to the world. Almost like a defense mechanism. When you experienced that something wasn’t right with the world, when you experienced pain, or neglect, or whatever, all of us developed a way to understand the world: like I must work hard to show that I matter, or I must be quiet and blend in to keep peace, or I must always help to be noticed. For 7, it’s I must avoid pain because the world is a painful place. I experienced a very early childhood trauma and it shaped me to always see the silver lining in things, instead of facing the pain. 7’s are usually caught up in the future. The present isn’t good enough, there’s gotta be always a little bit more. Addictions also work like this. Always looking forward to the next high. It’s also how you never experience true satisfaction.
For me, to embrace the present wasn’t just a simple thing of doing mindfulness exercises, although they were some of the practices that I had to take on, but a big thing about truly being present was to face my past. To really hold it honestly, with courage, with openness. I’ve asked God, on the real though, Where were you then? And be like, mad at God because that’s being real with your past! I mean, if you have doubts about the presence of God in that moment crucial moment where everything changed for you, that shaped who you are today — what hope is there in seeing today, this very moment as sacred or holy, full and present with the spirit of God? There isn’t. God wasn’t there then. God isn’t here now. So what does it matter at all? Just live for the next release. So for me, it took real grieving and being real with God about my pain, for me to face my pain. Which actually liberated me from perpetual escapism to the future, allowing me to be present.
Why is it so difficult for so many of us to be present? Because most of us are caught up in past and future. What keeps you in the past? Is it regret? Or replaying a mistake over and over in your head? Something that didn’t work out for you. Or wish things could’ve been different? What future hopes or dreams keep you preoccupied to the present? What envy or next promotion keeps you from being fully you now and not just working for the next step?
I got to learn about the Emmanuel Prayer since I’ve arrived to Reservoir. I think it’s a beautiful practice of inviting God to your past. Or seeing that Jesus was there all along. And they do sometimes take practice to do, because it takes a moment for us to not be distracted, to really bring us to a place where God is real and present. We’ve been providing these little “business cards” during this series of the Jesus model for every day interactions, with different spiritual practices to try, one side for you and God, and the other side for you and people. Because these spiritual disciplines take guidance and practice, and whatever we’re offering you to be, be kind, be present, etc, you must first know that God is that to you. Tap into that first, and the rest will come easy. We have a new one for you this week to try, and I want to lead us through it now and practice together. For you and God. A practice called the Daily Examen.
The Daily Examen is an ancient spiritual practice that helps us become aware of God’s presence in our day. It’s a way to slow down and carve out a sacred time and space to say, God, I invite you to my day, or inviting yourself to see God in your day. There’s 5 steps, and let me lead us through the spiritual practice now, so that you have a sense of what it’s like, and hopefully you can give it a try on your own this week sometime. I’ll take many moments of silences in between for you reflect through, and end us with Amen. To begin, you may choose to close your eyes. Get into a comfortable position. You could lay both feet on the ground, or choose to open your hand on your lap. Take a moment to just breath and let us begin with a few moments of silence.
The Daily Examen
Become Aware of God’s Presence
Invite God to the moment. Welcome God’s grace and love.
Review Your Day with Gratitude
Look over the day thus far with God’s eyes. What have you seen or experienced? Hold them with gratitude.
Reflect on the Feelings You had in Your Day
Carefully notice the areas that bring up certain feelings. What did you feel?
Face Your Shortcomings
Pray over the day’s mistakes or shortcomings.
Look Toward Tomorrow
Pray with hope for tomorrow. Invite God to what’s to come.
You know why you can be present? Because God is present to your past — your regret, your pain, your wrongdoing, or wrong that’s been done to you, everything in all its ugly. They are not far from God but God moves towards it, and sees it, and knows it, just as surely as you felt whatever you felt, God feels it too. And God is present to your future. Your hopes, your fears, your unknown and expectations. Your doubts of your dreams and your grandeur of your future self in all its glory, God sees it and knows it and is with you now as you face them. Do you believe that?
There’s also a practice for you to try with you and people, but again, it’s not a to do, but it’s do less.
For you and people:
Embrace silence in conversations. Don’t respond immediately.
Practice humility in your conversations. Try to relax and just listen.
Let go of your agenda. Don’t think about what you’re going to say.
Let us not get busy but be, with God. For you to be simply seen by God.