Stay busy and avoid looking like you need someone to talk to. That’s my motto.
The thing I hate the most about social gatherings is those moments when I’m standing awkwardly by myself. Those moments are why I don’t go places alone. They’re why I pull out my phone and pretend to text someone. They’re why I like to be involved in things — that way, in case of an emergency (and maybe even prior to any potential emergency), I can go find something to keep busy with.
Being involved and helping out is kind of the lifestyle I was raised in. It’s unnatural for anyone in my family to see someone else working and not offer to help.
This lifestyle was reflected in our Sunday afternoon lunches at my parents’ home growing up. Almost every week we had people over after church. Conversations ranged from sermon discussions to soccer and engagement stories to mortification of the sin. These conversations were often very interesting, but I rarely joined in much because I was always busy clearing the dishes or serving dessert or refilling drinks. I was in and out of the conversation because I was busy being hospitable.
The habit of being busy has bled into other aspects of my life. While it’s never good to be idle and hospitality does involve work, I find myself missing out.
At church, I miss out on building deeper relationships with others because I am too busy setting up tables and chairs for potluck. In my personal life, I miss out on reading and reflecting on the Word and talking to God because I am too preoccupied with doing chores or working out. Even at work, I miss out on learning from my more experienced co-workers because I don’t take the time to ask them questions or observe how they do something.
The Problem With Martha
There’s someone very similar to me in the Bible. Someone who was not, in this case, commended — Martha, the sister of Mary. Martha who, when Jesus came to visit, was so busy in the kitchen that she missed out on what Jesus himself was teaching. Silly Martha.
But wait. Wasn’t she just trying to be helpful? In a culture that emphasized hospitality even more than our own, wasn’t it important that someone do the cooking and serving and cleaning up afterwards? Jesus, the Son of God, had come to her house! The least she could do was be hospitable.
I’m afraid I relate too well to Martha.
Luke puts it this way: “But Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:38).
She was distracted. Yes, it was something good (serving), but it kept her from getting what was much better. Her mind was so focused on the immediate, material needs that she was even irritated at Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening.
Learning from Mary Who’s Learning from Jesus
But Mary, we learn, got it. She knew what “one thing is necessary” and chose “the good portion.” As important as hospitality and service were, Mary knew these were small and fleeting needs compared to eternal matters. She understood that Jesus could give her far more than what she could give Him – that “which will not be taken away” (Luke 10:41).
What we can learn from Mary is that sometimes, it’s okay to stop being busy. In fact, sometimes it’s better.
Of course, slowing down is unnatural to many of us. It takes a measure of grace to put ourselves in awkward situations where we are open to others, rather than filling those moments with busy work. And it takes a measure of humility to recognize our need for Christ’s words to fill our lives.
Making Things Simple
Taking time to learn from others and to learn from God comes at a cost — we can’t do everything that needs to be done and sit down and talk with someone for hours.
But there is one thing we can do to get the best of both worlds: Keep it simple.
When I was in college, I rarely had people over for a three-course meal. Oh wait, I never did. Instead, my roommates and I had people over for a simple meal or even just a cup of coffee. We didn’t do much preparation, and goodness knows that our apartment was never spotless. But our guests felt comfortable and welcomed.
There is something to be said for putting in a lot of work to host or serve someone. But keeping it simple freed us to not only have people over fairly often but also to have meaningful times with them — whether we just did homework together or have deep conversations.
Simplifying how we hosted people gave us time for what was more important.
Similarly, when we simplify our lives, then we have time for what is important. If we are not overly busy with activities and events, then we will have time to build relationships with people. If we put the food and the dishes down for a bit, then we can sit at the feet of Jesus. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?