The older I get, the more I struggle with the inner dialogue of “I have to do something about ____” and “but I’m just one person…what can I do, really?” As a Millennial (which Microsoft Word says is synonymous with utopian, idealistic, and visionary), I’m annoyingly optimistic. But there’s only so much one person can handle on their own, there’s only so much of the world’s pain, anxieties, and fears that one person (aside from Christ) can try to solve.
I try to balance the desire to “do something” about the world’s problems – to offer a voice, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to serve – while also allowing myself to sit at the feet of Christ and listen. Ora et labora, pray and work, has been something Christians have struggled to balance for centuries.
But who likes listening when the world is shouting at you to speak, to act, to do something, anything, to fix the world’s problems that just seem to be getting worse?
So when I read the Gospel passage from the Feast of the Dormition (the same as for the apodosis or leavetaking of the feast) from Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28, I could certainly identify with both Mary and Martha. Mary sat listening to Christ while Martha took care of offering hospitality to her guests. Martha was upset at Mary’s inaction, and Jesus tells Martha that she is anxious and worried about many things but one thing (being with Jesus) was needful.
What we need is to find some balance. Here are three things to keep in mind.
1. Acknowledge anxieties and worries
Most of my own confusion with answering the “what can I do?” question comes from the seemingly oppressive list of problems that need solving. In our heads, all mixed up and confused, these problems really seem unsolvable. What we need is to pause and acknowledge the various things in our lives that we’re anxious and worried about.
Are we struggling with grief and sadness over the loss of a loved one? Maybe we’re battling all the lies we tell ourselves.
Then there’s the general political tone in our country today. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, life after the election is certainly different. There’s a lot of uncertainty for many people who struggle to find hope and give thanks in such a divisive political climate. We don’t want to get stuck in our worries, but it’s easier to deal with them if we have cleaned up the clutter of our thoughts.
After we are aware of what problems we’re personally struggling with, then we can turn them over to Christ.
2. The One Thing that’s needful
In the Gospel reading about Mary and Martha, Mary was perfectly content with sitting at the feet of Christ and listening to Him. I’m guessing Martha would have wanted to sit and listen to Jesus too, she just had SO much to do! Sound familiar? We’d love to be at church, we’d love to read the Bible, we’d love to spend some alone time with God… but… look at this LIST!
We need to commit ourselves to Christ and see that He is the one thing that’s needful.
But what if we just feel burnt out? What if that urge to sit at the feet of Christ, that urge to pray and grow in our faith is just not as strong as it once was?
I am so very good at distracting myself from prayer. I can fill my free time with so many things until it comes down to growing in my faith – and then suddenly there’s just not enough time. Time seems to stop as I stare blankly at my to do list or at the daily news in shock, but what I really need is to break out of this inaction and turn to Christ.
You see, behind all of the world’s problems and the problems I might face, I am only one person. But One Person is also the solution to all of the world’s brokenness – Jesus Christ – and He can and will be present with us if we have the faith to let Him work. From a position of trust in Him, He will direct us to the right course of action.
3. The role of action
Once we’re centered and letting Christ direct us, we’ll have the better vantage point to see what we can do. But there are different types of action.
If I’m inclined towards selfishness and laziness, doing something physical might be exactly what I need to do. After all, service changed my life and might change yours too. When we serve someone in need, we serve Christ Himself. And, that’s what Martha was doing wasn’t it?
They key to the issue might be what the Church connects to the story of Mary and Martha from the next chapter of Luke. Jesus calls blessed those who “hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). Some of the Gospel requires action on our part, and this is our keeping of the word of God. But we have to hear it first.
If I’m inclined to worry and trying to do everything and anticipate all the possible problems that might come next, it will surely take work just to…stop. Action for me would be to slow down and listen to Christ. We have an opportunity for action – that work of the people of God – to serve together in prayer. Like Elder Sophrony of Essex reminds us, “The early church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy.”
Whether our action is by serving those in need, or speaking out when we need to, or stopping ourselves for a moment to listen to what Christ is trying to tell us, it takes work on our part.
We cannot ignore evil any more than we can ignore the anxieties in our own lives. So we have to slow down for a moment and acknowledge the fears and worries we have. We need to sit at the feet of Christ in prayer and study and listen to what He might have us do. And then we take action in the best way we can – following the lead of Martha who showed hospitality to Christ as best she could.
Are you a Mary or a Martha? If you’re feeling more anxious these days, how have you strengthened your personal prayer life? How is God calling you to action in your corner of the world?
By Sam Williams, Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
in Virginia Beach, Virginia