Distracted by the necessary

The spice box

by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel – 

Martha, who, with her sister Mary, had welcomed Jesus into their home, was faced with the worrisome problem of countless distractions, all demanding immediate attention. After all, the Lord himself was visiting, and must be honored with the best they could manage. Imagine Martha’s frustration as she bustled back and forth, scrubbing and cleaning and preparing food for cooking over the open flames of the fire, perhaps running off to the neighbors to borrow salt or their best vase, pausing now and again to signal Mary to come and help—silly girl, she must have known all the trouble she was causing, all because she was fascinated by what the Master had to say—surely she knew how much Martha needed her help if dinner was going to be on time, and such a dinner, too!

And not only that, the Master supported Mary in her choice to remain with him, drinking in his words as though she couldn’t hear enough; and then he had the nerve to suggest to Martha that Mary’s choice was better than her own, that Martha’s worry and distraction (all for his own good, let it be known) were somehow interfering with more important things. Men!

Pick up for junior soldiers, for Home League, for sunbeams, for adventure corps, for Sunday school—and get them all home again, safe and sound, all in compliance with “Safe from Harm.” Meet with the staff, with the advisory board, the corps council, the soldier unhappy because the job he no longer enjoys doing was given to someone who enjoys it, the employee whose family responsibilities are interfering with her work, and can’t understand why it’s any of your business. Prepare to lead and teach corps cadets, the mid-week prayer and Bible study, the adult Sunday school class, to give a presentation on The Salvation Army at Rotary Club, and plan the holiness meeting, where you’ll lead and preach the sermon. Pick up VBS supplies, the entrée for the potluck supper, and your own kids from school.

Compile and submit the stats, after only five requests to the community care ministries secretary for the number of visits to hospitals during the past month. Reconcile your petty cash, respond to Lotus Notes memos from nine different persons at DHQ (half of whom are seeking the same information, but each in a different format), return all the calls you missed and all the calls where you couldn’t answer a question in full because you were on your cell phone at the corps thrift store fifteen miles from your office.

Fall, exhausted, into bed, as the phone rings to tell you that Janie has just received word that her mother has passed away, or Milton needs your support in winning the battle of the bottle, or frail and elderly Miss Margaret’s beloved cat hasn’t returned home for the night, and she’s sorry to bother you, but would you please, oh, please help her find him, because he’s never, no, never been out all night before, and she can’t go to sleep without knowing he’s safe, he’s such a naughty boy, but so-o-o-o sweet!

Countless tasks, each important; limited time; mind-and body-numbing physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion; how does one find time (and energy) to minister to one’s own needs, to tap the resources that make for health and well-being and spiritual vitality?

Was Jesus unreasonable in reproving Martha? Or was he simply suggesting that perhaps some of the things she was doing could have been done more simply—that he wasn’t looking for a beautiful table and the world’s most delicious stuffed chicken? Was he suggesting that she was trying to do too much for him, and not enough listening to him?

One thing is certain, if something must be sacrificed for the daily agenda, it cannot, MUST NOT be our time with the Lord, delighting in his presence, absorbing his Word, sharing our joys and sorrows and frustrations, seeking his guidance and strength. But how do we manage it? How could Martha have simplified her work to make more time for fellowship with the Master?

Sometimes it’s a matter of getting back to basics—of recognizing that no matter what DHQ says, there have to be limits set that will allow time to walk and talk with God. Sometimes choices must be made between what is most desirable and what is needful in terms of ministry and personal life. One person cannot accomplish as much as two (Martha knew that), and two not as much as half a dozen—but one person who puts God first will accomplish more for the Kingdom than will half a dozen people who find themselves distracted by the unending work demanding to be done—now!

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