There have been times in my life when I’ve needed a kick up the butt to get moving. My teenage years ring a bell – all those lazy sleep-ins or dawdling in front of the TV when I should have been doing homework. There have been other times in my life when I’ve desperately needed to apply the brakes, but I just need to finish this one thing, then do that, and while I’m doing that I’ll do this…
We will always experience tension between busy and not, doing and being, chasing and chilling. But there is another posture that I’m keen to grow in: that of being both still and eager.
In Luke 10 we read about Jesus visiting the home of sisters Mary and Martha. While Martha is busy cooking the meal and preparing the house, Mary instead chooses to sit at Jesus feet, “listening to what he taught”. Martha is annoyed that Mary isn’t helping and tells Jesus so. But ever the expectation breaker, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has actually chosen the better option.
Contrary to what it might first appear, this story is not a lesson in busy-ness versus chilling out. Now, there is plenty of good research out there to support the notion of being less ‘busy’. In our technologically advanced first world, we live under constant bombardment of information, messages and task pressures, so there is much to be said for taking time out and resting our minds and bodies. But if you are looking for a passage of Scripture to support kicking back and chillaxing, this particular passage isn’t your best option. This passage isn’t about the merits of doing nothing versus doing something. Both women were doing something. Both women were active – you could say both were quite busy indeed.
In this passage, Mary isn’t reclining on a first century equivalent of a bean bag, wine in hand, eyes half-closed as she passively lets the words of Jesus wash over her. She’s not merely ‘still and chilled’. No, this passage describes something a little more active. The words used to describe Mary’s posture – knelt at His feet – are the same words used to describe a disciple. It’s the posture of someone who is listening intently, ready and wanting to learn. Still, but eager.
So rather than picturing someone reclining on a bean bag, imagine instead a student sitting in the front row of a lecture theatre, back straight and pen poised, ready to take it all in.
Imagine an apprentice in a woodworking class who has hustled their way to the front of the pack so they can lean on the workbench and see the teacher’s demonstration up close.
Imagine a music fan with front row tickets, staring in admiration at the guitarist’s fingers dancing across the strings.
It’s a position of eagerness, concentration and expectation.
And Mary’s eagerness is all the more poignant when you consider that women in that time and culture weren’t expected or encouraged to be educated at the feet of a rabbi. A woman’s place was in the home, and her eagerness was to be for domestic things. Back to the kitchen, ladies, the men are learning now. To put herself in this position of active learning meant going against the social and cultural expectations of the day. And yet still, there she was.
So by all means, let’s get better at being ‘still and chilled’. Our minds, bodies and spirits will likely be better for it. But let’s also get better at being ‘still and eager’. Taking time out from all our planning and leading and cleaning and creating to fix our eyes on Jesus. Sitting at His feet like Mary, daring to be His disciple when the world might want us to stick to other roles. Posturing ourselves to pay attention. Choosing what’s better: to be still in His presence, and eager to learn.
Want more on Mary?
I preached on Mary of Bethany in 2016. Listen via Redhill Church podcast: The Marys – Mary of Bethany (30 August 2016), 21 minutes.
My talented friend Mirjam Butler wrote a song ‘No Better Place’ inspired by this moment between Mary and Jesus. Here is a video of the song accompanied by footage of our recording process: https://youtu.be/9pXM1QDiTVs