The cooler fall temperatures are here at last. Summer vacation time is lingering in the corners of our minds. Our children and grandchildren are back in school. The winter visitors are beginning to arrive. The traffic volume is heavier. The stores are gearing up for the upcoming fall festivals and winter holidays. Many of us are beginning to feel like we’re stuck in the “I Love Lucy” candy factory episode on a speeding conveyer belt, hurtling along and out of control. There’s so much busy packed into our days that we’re in danger of forgetting that the origin of holiday is holy day. If you’re days are anything like mine, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the business of busy too frequently equates to major stress and anxiety. When I prayed about my own busyness, I found my mind dwelling on two Bible stories.
The first is the story of Martha and Mary on the occasion of Jesus’ visit to their home. You know the story. It’s shared with us in Luke 10:38-40. Martha welcomes Jesus, although she’s distracted and busy. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, sits at the Lord’s feet and listens to His teaching. Then Martha gets irritated with Mary, and brings her complaint to Jesus. At which point Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
There’s a fair amount of discussion about what that “one thing” might be in the context of this lesson. Maybe Jesus was reminding Martha that basic hospitality is good enough. Given Mary’s role in the story, Jesus could also have been letting Martha know that the one thing that’s necessary above all is to spend time with God. In Luke’s gospel, the story of Mary and Martha is right in the middle of two other stories: the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan, and Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. Luke seems to be hinting that there’s a time and place for both service and prayer in our lives. The story of Mary and Martha is very rich, and speaks to us in different ways at different times in our own lives. At this time, it seems like a great reminder that there’s nothing more important in our busy days than prayer and the study of God’s word. After all, when we’re filled and strengthened in the Lord, we’re much better equipped to love and serve others.
The ever-growing complexity of our lives adds greatly to our general level of stress and anxiety. The demands of our fast-paced lives sneak up on us (or just plain slam us), and then seem to hold us to ransom. Simplifying is one answer, and a good start to freeing ourselves from our bondage to busyness. From the Letter to the Philippians 4:4-7 we read, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This beautiful hymn offers simple and good advice in stress relief. Is it too good to be true? Try it and see! When we offer ourselves to God with prayer and thanksgiving, we feel the Lord’s presence, and experience God’s peace. It doesn’t get any better than that!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, the Lord may well be calling you to sit and rest awhile at His feet. It’s the one thing that we all need to do regularly to regain our balance and receive strength for the journey. When we keep God in Christ Jesus as the one essential to our lives, everything else becomes clearer, and falls into place. When we take the time to hear the Word in worship and Bible study, we discern what’s really important and what’s just keeping us busy and distracted. When we offer our prayers to God with thanksgiving, we’ll find God’s peace. Maybe preparing for the holidays really can be much simpler and less stressful.
• The Rev. Susan E. Wilmot is priest-in-charge at St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church, 975 E. Warner Road, Tempe. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (480) 345-2686.