Luke 10:38-42 -- 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!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Oh Martha, I can so relate. On more days than I can count, I've looked at a clock around 8 a.m. and thought to myself, "I've accomplished more this morning than most people do in a full Thursday. I. Am. Awesome!" I've swelled with pride at all the tasks I've completed: early jogs, packed lunches, checked homework, clean school uniforms, walked dog, prepped crock pot, economical shower, modest makeup, 10 Facebook likes, 7 Facebook comments, 5 emails, 2 coffees, 1 bowl of oatmeal, and a partridge in a pear tree.
My ego feeds off productivity. If I can get more done than you, I'm superior to you. Or, at least that's the way I've been acting and thinking. I've been so misguided. How quickly my busyness turns to resenting others, too. I've thought, "Why am I the one who has to do all this stuff? Where's that personal assistant I never hired? Those lazy (family members, friends, clients, you-name-its) are such slackers!"
Martha said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Just as I've said, "Lord, don't you care that I have this huge to-do list and I'm doing it all alone? Tell them to help me!" But then, I started to notice how crazy that is. I noticed because the to-do lists make me happy for no more than a minute, an hour, a day. I always fall back into worry and frustration. Tasks never satisfy me.
So, almost every day for a while now, I've been telling my task-hungry ego and chatter-heavy mind to take a breather and let me just be. Amazingly, it works. My mind calms and I find more enjoyment in the now. I am starting to enjoy leaning into the discomfort of stillness. I pray the discomfort I feel eventually disappears completely...every time and at every degree.
Even at a vibrant 40 (something) years old, I can feel my world-fed desire to be doing and planning being slowly replaced by the deeper contentment that arises from living in the peace of the present. Not only do I tire quicker than I did even five years ago, but my desire to tick off tasks -- though still thrilling at times -- does not trip my trigger nearly as much as it did. It's a little scary, but mostly exhilarating.
When I walk by windows in my den, I peek at the squirrels a little longer. When I go on a walk, I notice the shape of the flower on that weed over there. When I meet up with friends, I listen more and talk less. This new practice I've learned is diffusing into every facet of my life.
When I feel my mind wander from the present, I usually notice. In response, I focus on my breath, feel my hands from the inside, pause, and return to center. Not in every instance, but most of them. And, the more I recognize the runaway train of my mind, the quicker I can feel the tracks reverberating straight toward my soul.
Thankfully, these days on most days, I don't need to hear the train's blaring whistle or run for my life before I get the message. That's a huge blessing. Mary, with her interest to spend time with Jesus, to sit contently and to listen intently, chose what was better -- a word that also means "higher quality, more useful, worthier, and more valuable (thanks, Thesaurus.com). Martha's to-do list consumed her, and look at what she missed! Mary, on the other hand, was present with the Lord. Being present with the Lord was more valuable. Being present with the Lord is more valuable.
I understand that to-do lists are necessary in life. Not only do they help ensure we can pay our bills (gotta go to work) and care for our families (gotta feed the kids), they can be pretty darn fun sometimes (gotta make the party costume!). But, when we are busy, busy, busy with thoughts and ideas and tasks and appointments and accomplishments and preparations and future-casting and remembering...we are not going to hear Him. He's flat-out shut out of the conversation.
But, when we slow our chattering minds and put the list away from time to time, we give God a chance to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. The Christ within us has a chance to get a word in.
When we engage in getting quiet, we can later return to our lists and proceed to chip away at them, but bring God with us into the process. We can invite Him in at the start of a task, and offer our work to Him through every step. Only then can your to-do list reflect higher purpose and deeper meaning.
Less doing and more being. With that at the top of my to-do list, I'm not as concerned with what's on the rest of it.