I have never been one to sit still for very long. As a junior in college pursuing a degree in Biology, working in the Writing Center and organic chemistry lab, and serving on the leadership team in the Office of Social Justice, I don’t generally have too much free time on my hands. I’ve always kind of liked it that way—when I’m busy, I feel like I’m accomplishing things. When I hear the story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha, I always find that I relate to Martha, who is busy in the kitchen while her sister Mary sits listening to Jesus. If I was there in that story, I probably would have been Martha, busying myself with whatever work needed to be done and maybe feeling a little frustrated with Mary for not pitching in. There is nothing inherently wrong with being busy. The problem is that Martha allows her busyness to separate her from Jesus.
Sometimes I think we try to fill up all of our free time with so many tasks that we forget how important it is to put aside time to simply be with one another. Even when we do spend time in the presence of others, we may find ourselves multitasking. If I was in the story with Martha and Mary, I would have been tempted to tell Jesus, “Yes, of course I will listen to you, but let me just wash these dishes while you talk.” While doing the dishes can be helpful, Jesus doesn’t ask Martha to do them at that particular time. He wants her to come and sit with Mary, who devotes her whole attention to being with Jesus. She isn’t doing. She isn’t necessarily even saying anything. She is simply being there with Jesus, in body, mind, and spirit. When we really think about it, how often are we really, fully present to one another? I can recall hundreds of times during conversations with friends when I’ve found my mind wandering, thinking about the million “important” things that I need to get done that day. Being fully present can be a challenge because it requires us to put aside our desire to be productive and to shift our focus outside of ourselves.
I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be truly present to others during my visits to nursing homes and during the time I’ve spent with adults with intellectual disabilities. In a society that focuses on efficiency, we often brush aside the elderly and people with intellectual disabilities in our drive to accomplish and to produce. I’ve found that these individuals understand what it means to fully enjoy being with the person that they are with in that particular moment. This way of thinking isn’t always compatible with our fast-paced style of living. When I have removed all distractions and finally focused on being fully present to these individuals, I have experienced God more clearly than I ever have while I was knee-deep in all of my “important” activities. I’ve often found that when I am entirely present to the person I am with, I am able to tap into a direct line of communication with God. God speaks to us, delights in us, and loves us through the people we interact with on a day to day basis. Of course, doing is important. After all, those dishes that Martha was so concerned with needed to get done at some point. But Jesus didn’t need for Martha to do those dishes in that particular moment; He needed her to sit and listen to Him. God frequently calls us to go out and act. However, if we never stop to listen, we may not hear what it is exactly that He is calling us to do. There is a time for doing and there is a time for sitting at the feet of Jesus. God is always communicating to us through one another, but we’ll miss Him if we’re too busy washing the dishes to notice.