I’ve always considered myself a neat freak. As a young child I tried to implement a Saturday morning cleaning schedule for our family, with all of the chores assigned accordingly. No, it didn’t work. In grad school I was regularly teased for my excessive use of 409 and obsessive cleaning of my house. I took the teasing in stride because I was actually quite proud of my home’s cleanliness. Back then, I somehow found the time to balance work, school, a social life, and keep a home that would have impressed Mr. Clean.
Once I got married, I was faced with a truth I could no longer avoid: not everyone enjoys getting up early every Saturday and spending the first several hours of the morning cleaning the house from top to bottom. I say this not to criticize my wonderful husband, but to confess that in our marriage (as in most marriages, I have learned), household chores are a source of disagreement. But this article is not about chores or cleaning, it is about the pride and selfishness that fester beneath the surface. Sometimes I find myself so wrapped up in my tasks, whether they be dishes, laundry, cleaning, or picking up toys, that I neglect those closest to me. Every once in a while, I hear the quiet whisper, “Jen, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing…” Sometimes I become so driven to accomplish everything on my to-do list that I selfishly reject other things my family would like to do. I convince myself that I am doing the things necessary to keep the household running smoothly and until those things are finished, there is no time for play or relaxation. “…you are worried and distracted by many things…” And how dare anyone suggest that I sit down and read a book when there is so much work to be done?!
After we had our first child, several months went by where every few weeks, I would break down and say that I couldn’t do it all. I positioned myself as a martyr and felt sorry for myself that there wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything that needed to be done. “…there is need of only one thing…” At some point, it struck me that if I kept going like this, I was going to miss out on her childhood. Sure, I was home with her more than I was away from her, but I was so focused on getting things done that I didn’t spend enough time just interacting with her and enjoying her. I couldn’t just sit down with her while she was playing with toys, I had to be doing the dishes. Likewise in the evening, I couldn’t just sit down and watch a show with my husband, I had to be folding laundry so that I wasn’t ‘wasting time.’
Ten years later, things are only marginally better. Some days, I am able to force myself to sit down and play with the kids. Many evenings, I’m able to sit down and relax without doing anything ‘productive.’
When Jesus told Martha there was “need of only one thing,” he was referring to discipleship. He wasn’t discounting the importance of hospitality, but he was stressing the importance of sitting at the Master’s feet. In fact, there is much wisdom in the instruction that before engaging in ministry, we must first spend time at the feet of God. I’ve come to realize that I’ve been doing it all backwards, believing that I have to accomplish A, B, and C before I can allow myself to sit down and spend time in prayer, or reading God’s Word, or relaxing with my family, or something similarly pleasant. But would God care more about me having a clean home, or a clean heart? Would God rather the laundry be folded and put away, or that my children see me setting aside time to read the Bible? Thankfully we don’t always have to give up the good to achieve the better. But sometimes we do. And we can only choose what is better, the ‘one thing,’ when our priorities are properly aligned. And how do we arrange our priorities in a Godly way? I find that when I am truly open to hearing God’s voice, I hear it in lots of different places. I hear it in Scripture, I hear it through a speaker, I hear it in the voice of a friend, I hear it in a book, I hear it in Anna’s voice when she says “Mommy sit down. Mommy play.”