Drowning, deep breaths, and who defines reality
The story of Mary and Martha almost always leads to some kind of polarizing assumptions about how we should be and what we should do, that tend to begin with, So, are you a Mary or a Martha? In other words, Are you a doer? Or a thinker? – (and before you answer, serene thinkers are clearly better than busy doers).
EXCEPT that nothing gets done without the doers, so don’t say it too loudly. Who’s going to get the food on the table if everyone is sitting around at the feet of Jesus? What would happen if we all stopped doing? Nothing. That’s what would happen. A whole lot of nothing would get done. And then where would we be?
Martha is muttering all of this to herself while she slams the pots down on the stove and glares into the living room, trying to catch Mary’s eye, while Mary is apparently casually on purpose ignoring her. And the dinner starts to burn and the table isn’t set and the other guests are approaching, finally, driven to desperation, Martha tattles.
And you know it has to be bad when the quintessential host of a welcoming home tattles to the guest. Her stress is through the roof and she has blown a gasket.
Lord, don’t you even care that she’s left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me!
But before we judge her too harshly, or, as has always been the case with me, sympathize with her too completely, before we try to make this some kind of lesson in how to be better at whatever, I want to notice the way she says this. It’s urgent. It’s panicked. This woman is overwhelmed.
And, while it couldn’t be a more different story, still, it reminds me of another time friends of Jesus said, “Lord, don’t you even care… that we are dying! It was when the disciples were caught in the middle of a terrible storm, and the boat was going under, and Jesus was asleep ASLEEP in the stern. And they shook him awake in terrified panic and said these same words, Lord, don’t you even care… Don’t you even care that we are drowning here?
And for as much as that is NOT where Martha is, it is where she feels like she is. I am drowning here! Tell her to help me! I am alone! Do something! Jesus, don’t you even care?
It is said that in this day and age we live in this heightened flight or fight state of stress much of the time. And from time to time, on an otherwise ordinary day, I find myself here – when the chaos and noise start to build, drama is escalating, little people are arguing, the house is messy, the dogs are barking, and I look around and notice that my husband is off somewhere minding his own business, blissfully relaxing or something, and I suddenly feel desperate and alone. I get more and more worked up until I yell out- Hey, don’t you even care - ?
That I am drowning! That I can’t take it anymore? Do something!
And when he hears me and wanders into the situation, one of two things happens. Either he calmly speaks normal voice words into my chaos, Kara, this is you. You’re pretty stressed right now. Take a deep breath. And I’ll be honest, at first this is annoying, but just a single deep breath later and I gradually realize that I am not really drowning after all, and it’s mostly in my interpretation of things, and we all calm down and approach things differently.
Or more likely, the alternative happens, which is that he buys my interpretation of things and jumps into the chaos along with me, which at first feels satisfying, but quickly becomes unhelpful because now we are both drowning, yelling, overwhelmed and out of sorts, ratcheting up the stress for everyone.
Jesus doesn’t get sucked into Martha’s interpretation of things.
She is not drowning.
And just like the disciples, tossed about in the little boat in the big storm, Martha has lost sight of who is sitting in her midst. She has allowed the elements, the demands she feels and the situation around her to tell her what reality is.
But again and again, in every moment with every person, Jesus is inviting us to interpret reality differently.
Jesus is inviting us to live in the truth that in life or in death we are held in the love of God. To take a deep breath and set it all down once in a while to come back to that truth.
That nothing can separate us from the love of God.
That life is a gift.
That God made this whole thing in all it complexity so that we could enjoy it together with God, together with each other, together with all that lives and breathes and grows and dies and buzzes and chirps and flows and rumbles and sits silent and majestic and unmoving in the background and crawling and bawling and snoozing and snorting in the foreground.
People keep forgetting this, in every time and place and every way imaginable. People keep finding all sorts of new and creative ways of cutting ourselves off from each other and from God, defining reality by all sorts of false and demanding standards. Acting as though we are alone, as though it is all up to us, as though we are against one another instead of in it together.
And so God comes right among us to remind us again, in walking alongside, talking alongside, living alongside, suffering alongside. But even with Godwithus in the living room, we still slip into worry and distraction and forgetting.
The saddest thing ever said to me by my children, the most poignant and piercing moment I’ve had as a mom so far, which felt like a kick in the gut, was when my three year old daughter said to me one day, “Mommy, play with me! Please play with me, Mommy. You can bring your computer.”
And I looked up from the screen into her pleading little face and I began to cry. How could I have so lost what’s real?
Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the good, and it will not be taken away from her.
What would it look like to let Jesus define reality instead of the relentless demands and overwhelming threats of the world? Those messages that tell us who to be, and who to fear, who to hate, and who to admire, and what to do to make ourselves worthy, important, good enough, what to avoid to keep ourselves righteous, what is powerful and what is weak and how threatened we are at any given urgent moment.
The word for distracted in the Greek has a sense of being pulled in many different directions. We are pulled in so many different directions that we miss the meaning; we lose what’s real.
We worry so much about the hypothetical and the correct, get so distracted by the urgent and the important, become so focused on the job to be done and the cause to be fought and the service to be offered and the duty to be done that we sometimes miss the human beings right in front of us, and we sometimes miss the opportunity to be a human being ourselves.
It is here that we meet Jesus, always here, with and for each other. God is present in our lives. Participating in life. We can be too!
Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest, Jesus said. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and I will give you rest for your souls.
Whether the storms are around us, between us or inside us, they are never bigger or more powerful or more real than the God who enters in and calls us to do likewise.
We’ll forget a lot, and we will need reminding, like Martha did, that we aren’t really drowning. That the one who made and loves us all is right here in our midst. That there might be a different, more real way to see and exist in reality than the one that we’re buckling under at the moment.
We don’t have to live as though we are alone, as though it is all up to us, as though we are against one another instead of in it together.
And the promise is that we will be reminded, when we get brave enough or desperate enough, frustrated enough, or scared enough to ask the question Martha burst out and the disciples cried out, Lord, don’t you even care?
Because Jesus can’t get sucked into our interpretation of it all, no matter how real or overwhelming it feels to us.
Instead, the one with the power to quiet the storm reminds us again, I care about you. And I care about your sister. And I am right here. You are not alone.
So come, weary ones, heavy burdened ones. Come workaholics and worriers. Come thinkers and doers and fighters and doubters, and bring your own real self and your own real versions of the question, whatever they may be.
Lord, don’t you even care?
Lord, don’t you even care– about a teenage boy being shot and his killer going free? We’re broken, it’s bigger and deeper and sadder than we can grasp.
Lord, don’t you even care that the church is so messed up? That people get hurt and lies get spread and judgment and hatred define us instead of love and mercy?
Lord, don’t you even care that the cancer is back? And it is winning?
That the gulf between us is widening? And I can’t seem to find forgiveness or even words?
That there doesn’t seem to be a way out of this situation, and I am not sure how we’re going to make it?
That I am overwhelmed and sleep-deprived? That my stress is through the roof?
Lord, don’t you even care that we are drowning here?
And then, may the one whose love holds us all, in life and in death, God incarnate in our midst, raise gentle eyes to your anxious face, and in compassion and understanding, speak the voice of calm into your storm, My child, you are pulled in many directions and worried about many things. But there is need of only one thing.
And at first it’s annoying – because we’d prefer he jump in and agree with us that it’s all too much.
But after one deep breath it becomes hope, peace, a lifeline, as we are invited to set down our many worries and sit, for a time, at the feet of Jesus, and find rest for our souls.
Jesus, draw us into the one thing, bring us into your love, that we may know we are not alone, and that as real as our troubles are, and as necessary as our work may be, chaos and fear, anger and hopelessness, worry and distraction may not define our reality.
Jesus, speak peace to our turbulent hearts and awaken our joy, that we may recognize you and join you where you are, right here in this holy life with us, right here in this ordinary life with each other.