Distracted! Who, Me?

There's a story in Scripture about an anxious, (distracted), woman. Her name was Martha. Her anxiety gave her an attitude about her sister, which is what worry will do. If we are vexed, we vex our relationships. Jesus tried to help her. This is an excerpt from my book 'Peace', which I wrote because of a large number of people in our congregation who asked me to teach on dealing with stress.

Lk 10:40,41 - But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.”

Martha peered out the window again. It was an anxious habit. Just in case! Just in case someone came and she wasn’t ready. She swept the house every morning. She dusted, cleaned and wiped everything that could be. The beds were made immediately, as soon as everyone was up and out of them. The sinks were washed down every time they were used. Chairs were placed squarely back under the table whenever anyone stood up from one.

The whole house was at once serene and orderly, yet tense. The air felt nervous. No-one wanted to disturb the ‘peace’. Or arouse Martha! Was she assuaging guilt? Was she obsessive? Is her personality so melancholic she can’t live with the aggravation of a hair out of place? Is it just her mother’s way that she has learned? Perhaps she imagines Yahweh demands a perfect house.

Even when others are eating, Martha is cleaning the dishes, preparing for tomorrow. It’s impossible for her to sit and relax. The colors don’t match. The linen isn’t folded right. There’s a stain on the curtain.

In the small hours of the morning, anxious thoughts about her family’s opinion scramble her out of bed. There’s always something else that has to be done. How many times has she left the house only to get halfway down the road and worry the heater was left on. She returns, but it never is. The house won’t burn down. She’s imagined it a thousand times.

As she looks through the window, she can see a large crowd coming over the hill a mile away. Even though the figure is so small in the distance, she can recognize him. It’s the family’s close friend, Jesus, the most famous person in Palestine right now. About seventy people are clamoring alongside him. She smiles for a second, but then a wave of anxiety physically moves through her body, then washes over her mind.

She is temporarily frozen. She stops breathing for a moment. She feels like running, but then knows she can’t.

Now she’s breathing again. Heavily. She quickly arranges an entire event management timeline in her mind. She estimates how long it will take them to arrive, then races to the pantry to begin cooking the pieces of the meal that will take the longest. To be hospitable is no question at all for her. Just how hospitable is the question. For Martha though, nothing is good enough, so she has to do the absolute best she can. She’s got chickens, lamb roast, turkey, beef all out of the freezer and in the ovens and microwaves within seconds. Then she’s got all her pots filled with water to steam vegetables. Then she’s rolling the round trestle tables out of the garage, into the courtyard. She’s spreading all her best white linen tablecloths.

She’s like a streak of lightning on the air between the kitchen, the garage, and the courtyard. She races upstairs to get ‘properly’ dressed. She puts her hair in rollers, splashes some makeup on, puts on her brand new dress, tries another, then another, finally settles for an old one she’s worn a hundred times. She throws an apron over it all, puts on some ‘sensible’ ‘flat’ shoes and races down the stairs. She rushes to the kitchen to take the chickens out of the microwave, but as she’s passing the doorway to the front room, she hears singing.

In slow motion, she turns to see and realizes Jesus has already arrived. Her sister Mary is sitting near him, playing a guitar and singing. She’s flabbergasted! Here she is working so very hard and her own sister can’t raise a finger to help! Can’t everybody see how hard she’s working! For the Lord! Surely it’s obvious. People should be helping her!

She can feel her neck turning red. Now the agitation transforms to wrath. She’s so upset with her sister. Yet now she’s feeling that Jesus Himself is missing the point. She is so resentful that he is just sitting there, letting her sister sing, while all the really hard work is happening out in the kitchen. A mass of boiling words fills her mouth. Before she knows it, she’s accusing Jesus of not caring for her. If he did, then he would command her sister to help.

So, go ahead Jesus, ‘command her to help me’. Jesus breathes deeply, looks at her for such a long time, without a word. The singing has stopped. The music is silent. Everyone in the courtyard has stopped talking. The quiet is so very awkward. But Jesus lets the silence hang for what seems minutes.

Finally he says, ‘Martha, Martha’.

Whenever Jesus repeats your name, get ready. It’s adjustment time.

Instead of rebuking Mary, he commends her, saying he refuses to stop her from worshiping. Rather, Martha is corrected. But not condemned.

Jesus goes to the root of her troubled attitude: anxiety. He basically says, ‘Martha, we’re fine with a cup of tea and toast. Don’t be so troubled about everything. You don’t have to do anything to impress me, or gain approval. I already am impressed. I already am proud of you. I already have accepted you. Rest in that.’

Tears roll down Martha’s cheeks. Wide black mascara lines form all the way down onto her apron, mixing with the gravy and flour. Her head hung low. Some rollers tumble out. She wept her way to a kitchen chair, elbows on the table, head in her hand, she just stared out the window, not believing what she had just said to Jesus.

However, in her mind His words became louder. She makes the commitment to herself, ‘stop worrying!’