I just finished another freelance piece of writing. I finally wound down in time to tend to my own blog, and the second my fingers hit the keyboard to type this, my Fitbit alarm sounded “time to start winding down for bed.” Which is honestly a pretty perfect introduction to this post.
A few months ago, I was in the first adult relationship of my life. The world was a rosy haze of foolish decisions and pet names, until one day it suddenly wasn’t anymore. I made a resolution (and accepted a challenge from my wise, saintly mom) to embrace my single call in a way I hadn’t prior to this relationship. Instead of using my single status biding my time until love found me, this time around I was going to use the gift of time to help myself and those around me.
It helps that right about that same time, my three closest friends all had babies and I realized instantly what a gift free time is, because suddenly I was the only one left that had any.
So I started saying yes. Often. And with abandon.
I will grow my blog.
I will sell more watercolors.
I will make more watercolors to sell.
I will volunteer at my parish.
I will learn to budget.
I will call people and write letters and visit. I will donate my time and my money and my stuff. I will learn to cook and join Weight Watchers and a gym and a dance class. And when people call on me for anything, no matter the time or the matter, I will do it all!
And I did. Well, for a bit.
The problem with doing it all is that it can come with a sense of self importance. I am guilty of that big-time. Part of that is probably from my slightly controlling nature, but by and large the need to be needed is pretty universal. A somewhat “malicious” part of us wants to believe that if we aren’t involved in something, then that thing will fail. Because if it succeeds and we aren’t a part of it . . . well then what? What do we have to offer?
It’s this obsession with being constantly busy and involved that makes the scripture about Mary and Martha, sisters to one another and best friends of Jesus, so impactful in my prayer life. I think of it often. Reflect on it less than I should.
In the story, Martha is flustered, doing dishes and preparing food and doing just a laundry list of chores while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, content to just listen to him. Instead of calling out her sister, Martha does something that I think we have all done. She totally tattles.
I hear Martha say to Jesus, “Lord, can you not see that Mary’s doing nothing while I’m trying to prepare a nice day for us? Do something!” the way I can hear myself say to my mom as a kid, “Mom, Elizabeth isn’t helping me set the table even though you told her to!”
Martha and I want to get people in trouble. We want to make sure that everyone sees how hard we are trying. We want to get credit for our work. And Jesus . . . well he couldn’t care less. In fact, he says to Martha:
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
Every time I read this passage, I actually read it like this:
Erin, Erin, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Choose the better part and it will not be taken from you.
This, of course, always troubles me greatly as I strive to figure out how to achieve the “one thing” and achieve it well. Maybe you’re like this, too. I have a feeling that it’s a trap that everyone striving for holiness falls into. My list doesn’t get shorter. It just gets . . . “holier.”
- Go to Mass
- Say a rosary
- Read a devotional
- Write a devotional
- Read a spiritual book every month
- No, every week
- No, EVERY DAY
- Feed the hungry
- Shelter the homeless
- Fly to another country and give rice to a kid
- But don’t forget the stack of books you promised to read–that’s going to be a long flight!
What starts off as a decently admirable attempt at the “one thing” just becomes another way I’m not carving out the time to do what God is actually asking of me.
So this past week, my prayer was a really simple question:
Lord, what do you want me to give and what do you want me to give up?
And today’s Gospel was the story of the loaves and fishes. Where a little boy gives all that he has–5 small loaves and 2 tiny fish–and Jesus feeds 5,000.
Historically, there’s so much we could unpack in that story. The fact that women and children were there but not in the headcount, so likely more like 10,000 or 20,000. The fact that in a more direct translation, the boy had more like biscuits than loaves and more like sardines than salmon. But even without parsing the text to make this story even more incredible, we get this basic teaching from the actions of our Lord. Give him what you can. Give him as little as you have. It is enough to make miracles.
If all you have is a quiet moment hiding in the pantry from your kids, give it to Him.
If all you have is $18 left in your bank account, give it to Him.
If all you have is the hope that one day this pain will end, give it to the Lord.
He is waiting to take the smallest thing we can possibly offer up and turn it into something profound, nourishing and life changing.