Posts Tagged ‘Martha’

Self Absorbed

It’s a confession. Self-absorbed says it all. Not so much that it’s all about me, just spending way too much time and energy on how “me” is doing. How do I look? How’s my weight? Should I cut my hair? Should I meet a man? How will I support myself? Worries and questions are like a drumbeat within.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [Matthew 6:25-26] 
My prayer time has been wrapped in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. It keeps me on track and gives more focus to my time alone. But if it is true, that I am committed to “Your will be done,” then one would think I’d have a freedom. And for the time I sit in my chair and keep my eyes and heart on God, I feel it. But then I have to take a shower and feed the dogs and cats and clean the cat box and get dressed for the day and and and and. Your will be done loses resonance. The old “honey-do” list is a “me gotta do” list. “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” [Luke 10:38a, NIV] 
I know. I know. But like Yoda says, I do not do.
Practicing the presence of God is a discipline. But I’m pretty sure my self-absorption gets in the way. It is a choice, a conscious one, that must be exercised throughout the day. Can I teach myself to be absorbed with the Presence instead? Can I look for Jesus in the eyes that I meet, look for the Holy Spirit all around me?

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Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man [servant] will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”Abram agreed to what Sarai said. [Genesis 15:4, 16:1-2, NIV]

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! [Luke 10:40, NIV]

Both of these women were movers and shakers: let’s git er’ done.

These are not intrinsically negative traits, without the energy and determination of many women, things would come to a halt. In my own case, I think of my mother who was resolved to emigrate from Germany after the war. She asked all the questions, she made all the connections, she filled out all of the paperwork, she made it happen.

The difference may lie in the Promise. Both Sarah and Martha were impatient and unable to embrace the paradox of the Promise. God told Abraham that he would have an heir, but Sarah could only see the reality around her. She could not manage the possibility against the odds. She considered herself a pragmatist; she was a control freak. Martha could not leg to of what “had to done” in the face of resting. Who has time to rest, we ask, there are places to go, things to do, people to see. They were both on a human clock while God was in a timeless space.

I don’t have a personal promise from God, not in so many words. But I do have the same scriptures that everyone has about God’s blessings, God’s care, and God’s love. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11, NIV]

Sarah and Martha are in me, I know. They are part of my DNA too. It is time to give them a break and give myself a break. My life is good, my God is Present, and I can choose to be content, giving thanks for what is today.

Thanks be to God.


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Mary Martha 2Having been a Martha type most of my life, it takes some strong intention on my part to return to the “one necessary thing.” In our Lenten devotional, the word for this week is Service and the first meditation is on Mary and Martha and I am reminded again, that service must come out of devotion or burn-out comes next.

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42, CEB]

A group of us at the church are participating in the Daniel Fast for the next 21 days, right up to Easter Sunday. And although there’s a lot of talk about the foods and food preparation (basically vegan – very Martha), the essence of it needs to be Mary, or the entire process becomes another diet or fad.

Clearly, we clutter our bodies with junk food & drink in the same way that we clutter our minds with noise, screens, and distraction. Where we can cleanse our bodies by changing our diet, it seems harder to clear our minds. This is one of the reasons why we all need times of solitude and silence. We need to stop multi-tasking and instead, put our single focus on God, on Christ, on the Holy Spirit, on the Word. Pick. Be. Rest.

In the journey toward simplicity, the questions that must be answered over and over again are, “do I need this?” or “do I love this?” Having just been through my first downsize, I practiced these questions quite a bit. Nonetheless, and despite giving away over 35 boxes of book, I still have eight shelving units filled with the books that remained. It’s a process. But I am getting better at it. Triage.

And I’m thinking this same process happens in the mind and spirit. Do I need think about this right now? Do I love contemplating upon this? Is it edifying or destructive? Will this practice move me closer to God?

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Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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T1221029-roadrunner.gifhis day could be any day, even today. Or perhaps “this day” has already happened and, looking back, we can say, “Oh, yes, that day–that day caught me off guard.” When Mike died, not even two months ago, a thief crept into my life and plundered me–that day. I thought I knew the way of life; I thought I had the God journey rooted in my understanding, but that day became this day for me.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. [I Thessalonians 5:4-5, NIV]

My faith is strong enough to keep me standing. I am grateful for the love and steadfastness of the Holy Spirit consciously whispering and sustaining me in ruach (breath of God). I am conscious of the prayers of the people that allow me to crowd surf these days and now weeks.

In some ways, it’s hard to disallow my former self to run this show, that planner and problem solver. She would have had everything worked out by now, she would know how to make all the ends meet and put order to the chaos. She is my cheerleader but she is also my goad. She is impatient to move on, to be in control, to make decisions. Over the years, she has buried her feelings and disappointments and simply built new paths instead. If a way is blocked, she goes another. She is her mother’s daughter, persistent and undaunted, self-sufficient and capable, enthusiastic and confident with energy and passion spread about like buckshot.

She has experienced what happens when her Road Runner stops moving, stops running. Everything in her warns of the danger. Keep moving. Keep talking. Keep busy. If nothing else, at least turn on the white noise.

But another voice is speaking as well, with questions: what’s important to this day? What is needful? Can we negotiate this time? Can we be more like conjoined twins and work together, and not compete to be one way or the other?

And if there is no decision, my “Martha” asks? Who will do the work?

Just wait. The pieces are not all in place yet. Wait. Stand a while longer. Try. Test the silence. Test doing nothing.

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LazarusSix days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. [John 12:1-2]

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, not only to celebrate the Passover, but undoubtedly he knew, he was going to his suffering and death. On the way, he stopped to be with friends. These were not necessarily disciples as we have no record that Lazarus and and his sisters followed Jesus in his travels. They were, instead, a home base, a place of rest.

I find it amusing that John would mention that Martha served, this very same Martha who Jesus chastised for becoming overly upset about serving while her sister sat at his feet listening (that would have been weeks earlier). I believe it is mentioned intentionally because this was still Martha’s way. Jesus never intended for Martha to stop being Martha, but to simply stop comparing herself to others and stop stressing. She was good at what she did but Jesus wanted her to check her priorities. I can relate to that, the Martha that I am. And so, on this final trip, his  final visit to their home, Martha served her Rabbi and Lord.

But the continuing story of Lazarus has always fascinated me the most (undoubtedly because of my love for fantasy and science fiction). In Romans 6:9, Paul writes about Jesus, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” And I cannot help but wonder, what happened to the ones Jesus raised from the dead (Lazarus was not the only one, there were a few others)? What was life like afterwards? Did they have awareness of death and then life again? Was there a sense of destiny, a role that needed to be fulfilled by coming back? Did Jesus charge them with a job to do? Did Lazarus die again? Did the widow’s son or Jairus’s daughter, Tabitha, die again?

I’m just asking.

And why did Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus? He delayed coming to the sick bed of Lazarus on purpose. He knew Lazarus was dying. And yet, when Jesus finally arrived in the midst of the raw grief and shock of Mary and Martha, Jesus weeps (John 11:35). So much is assumed is about his weeping, but I am not so sure it is merely for his love for Lazarus. Instead, I believe (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Jesus wept because of the symbolism that Lazarus’s raising implied. Jesus was seeing himself, for he too would walk from a grave and the stone rolled away.

But Lazarus did not come out with a different body, at least, there is no indication that he could transport himself or walk through walls. In fact, this is the last time we hear of Lazarus at all, reclining at table with his friend, his Rabbi, his Lord.

Is Lazarus still here? I don’t know. But what a story that would be, what an adventure. It’s on my list of tales to write.


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Painting by He Qi Chin

The hard part in these verses, the first of seven admonitions to the churches in Asia under John’s authority, is the complimentary tone, the praise for all of their hard work, and in particular, their endurance and perseverance. And yet, it is for nothing without love.

Revelation 2:3-4
I know you are enduring patiently and are bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not fainted or become exhausted or grown weary. But I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].

This is the classic Mary/Martha conundrum [Luke 10:38-42] where Martha, the overly busy one is chastised by Jesus whereas Mary is praised, not for her “good works” but her devotion, her love.

I think about my early weeks as a believer. They were indeed like the proverbial honeymoon. I wanted to be in the Presence as much as possible. I prayed effortlessly for hours. I devoured the scriptures, cover to cover, several times over. I wanted to know God. I wanted to catch up. I had missed so much.

As a child, I was raised in the Latvian Lutheran church, and that, in itself, is not bad, but growing up in America where my heritage became more and more of an add-on instead of a way of life, I kicked against the church just as I kicked against Latvian school and speaking Latvian in the home. I did not really listen. I did not learn. And as a result, by the time I reached adulthood, I knew the Bible as a group of stories and parables. It held no life.

Many years later, in the noise and speed of New York City, miles from my hometown in Indiana, living the life I had imagined a young actress should lead, the last person I expected to encounter was the Christ.

My encounter was personal, just the Word, the Presence and me, Christmas Eve, 1979. At first, uncomfortable with my new found love, I mumbled my decision to follow this Savior. I didn’t really want anyone to know. But things do change and people saw my change and the old haunts, the old ways, no longer had appeal. In some cases, it was a test . . . not for me, but for this God I had chosen to follow. And that one was faithful, eventually removing me from each and every terror, drug habit, drinking habit, and erotica.

My first love first loved me.

But thirty years is a long time and like an old married couple, I have become somewhat cavalier in my relationship. Still busy, still faithful, but without the wonder. I am a good volunteer. I say “yes” to almost every task. I fill my calendar.

Irmgarde,” the Lord might say, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. And Mary is an example of what it means to choose what is better.

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