Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."
Luke 10:38-42

At the beginning of this passage, it sounds like Martha's doing a great job. She welcomes Jesus into her home; she is working hard to be a good hostess to Him. But then she turns and sees her sister doing something that she decides doesn't count as doing anything: listening to Jesus. So she goes to Jesus and tries to tell Him what to do. Jesus doesn't respond the way she wanted, but He does respond with compassion. He implies that her priorities might not be where they should be, and He definitely refuses to rebuke Mary for sitting at His feet and listening to Him.

When we were talking about this in a manuscript Bible study (yeah, this is one of those posts I meant to do about a month ago), I took a lot of comfort from it for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it seemed to imply that "worried and distracted by many things" was not God's will for us as a lifestyle. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being busy!!--it might be a difference in attitude and priorities more than in the level of business. Also, in a certain area of my life this past year I have felt like I simply didn't "do" enough, and honestly, maybe I didn't, but it is still comforting to think that maybe the number of things one *does* is not an appropriate measure of success.

As a direction rather than as a comfort, the strongest angle that I saw was a question of priorities or even chronological order. Which is more important (or comes first) in serving God--listening to Him or running around looking for things to do? Obviously, doing things is truly an important part of serving Him, but maybe us going around doing stuff (even in a true attempt to serve Him) isn't necessarily serving Him. Maybe the first thing to do is always to listen to Him and pray and then serve Him according to His leading, according to His will rather than our ingenuity and energy.

I guess the lesson would be how very very important it is to spend time regularly in the presence of God, reading His word, listening to Him, praying, seeking guidance. The week that I was first thinking about that in reading that passage, I actually was spending a lot of time in that, and it was very good. This is not to say that I am still being good about it, but I guess that's why I wanted to write this, as a reminder.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rich and Poor

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

James 1:9-11

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Matthew 19: 30

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 14:11

There are many different ways in which it is possible to be rich or poor. I would argue that each of us reading this right now probably has areas of their life in which they could be classified as rich and also areas in which they could be classified as poor. Where do you feel like a success? Where do you feel like a failure? What is easy for you and what is hard? Is there an area of your life in which you are jealous of other people? What about one in which those same people might be jealous of you (think about it! it's more likely than it sounds!)?

I've certainly felt the oddity of that dichotomy in my life. My own strengths and weaknesses, wholenesses and brokennesses, are often frustrating for me--on both sides! I was recently re-reading A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and was struck by Sara's insistence (in the early stage of the book when she is ridiculously fortunate in many ways) that it was only "an accident" that she was what she was instead of being a poor ignorant hungry scullery-maid. That is a little what I have always thought about the way succeeding in some ways and areas of my life has been for me. Why this for me and yet not for someone else?

Unfortunately, I've tended to focus far more on the things that I perceive as my failures. Especially when I see other people succeeding in that same area. (Forgive me . . .) I sit and look at where I am like I'm down in some little hole while "they" are over there mountain climbing . . . and it didn't occur to me at all that some of the same people that I feel that sinful jealousy of might also have the temptation to be jealous of me, but after actually talking with some of those folks and thinking I realize that that can happen!

I've only recently (well, a few weeks ago now) come to think of all the mountains being brought low and the valleys brought high kinds of imagery in Scripture relative to this set of failures and successes. And the directives to glory in the humiliation of one's "rich" areas while glorying in the exaltation of one's "poor" areas . . . I think what that means for me right now is looking at where I am rich, acknowledging it, even being thankful for it, but mostly realizing how very tiny and unimportant and PASSING it is compared to God. And then looking at everything that I have felt discontented with my position--with what I've been unable to do--with what I don't have--and glorying in God's ability and desire and plan to exalt those humble things, if not now, then in the end.

For knowledge will pass away, and ability will pass away, even disappointment will pass away, but love will never cease, and God will never change.

Love, en español*

Si yo hablara en todas las lenguas sin dificultad, y aún las lenguas de los cielos, pero no amara, sería ruido sin sentido. Si pudiera predicar el futuro sin error, si pudiera entender todos los misterios, si tuviera todo sabiduría y una fe perfecta--para mover las montañas--pero no amara--yo sería un ser sin sentido, sin razón, y sin nada de bueno dentro de mí. Si diera un sinfín de posesiones y me diera a mí al martirio del fuego, pero no por amor, ese acto no tendría ningún valor.

¿Y cómo es este amor que vale tanto? Tiene paciencia; no tiene prisa, entiende como mover lentamente. Es amable, por supuesto, y simpático. Nunca tiene envidia de nadie aunque tenga hambre y ve comida o se sienta sólo y ve compañía. Nunca se jacta y no tiene arrogancia aunque sea primero en todo y sea alabado como el mejor. Siempre tiene en cuenta los sentimientos ajenos, no insiste en tener lo que quiere, no se queja ni recuerde un mal acto que sufre. Nunca regocija en lo malo, sino en la verdad. El amor es único en poder; puede soportar lo peor, creer lo imposible, esperar lo improbable, y sobrevivir lo fatal.

El amor siempre permanece. La profecía tendrá fin, las lenguas tendrán fin, y la sabiduría pasará de la tierra. Porque el conocimiento y la profecía son incompletos y pasarán cuando la perfección llegue. Cuando estuve una niña, hablé, pensé, y razoné como una niña. Ahora que he llegado a ser una mujer he dejado la perspectiva de la niñeza. Ahora no vemos con nitidez, pero luego sí. Ahoro sólo conozco unos trocitos, pero luego conoceré enteramente, como ya he sido conocido.

Entonces ahora permanecen los tres: la fe, la esperanza, y el amor. Pero es importante tener en cuenta que lo más importante de los tres es el amor.

*this is a paraphrase (in Spanish) that I wrote while reading the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians (in English). It is a very personal paraphrase that is not in my first language so I apologize for any way in which it does not accurately reflect the meaning of the text. I would also like to acknowledge (sorry!) that this is really not one of those "several" posts I thought I would do in a few days a few weeks ago, and that I know that not everyone can read Spanish, and that those of you who can read it will probably find grammatical errors and/or misused words. However, I felt compelled to write this this morning and I now feel compelled to post it, despite these drawbacks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Turtle Speed

So, about those several posts in a few days encapsulating items from a week's worth of study, reflection and realization? That's not quite happening the way I was expecting. I've sat down to try to post something more than once since I stated that intention, but I have not been successful. Why not? I'm not sure really; it's certainly not for lack of ideas. I have a list of ideas sitting there waiting for me. Yet it somehow feels unnatural and wrong to me to spew them all out at once. I still need to process these ideas more and write them out as they come, even if that is a little slower than what I was expecting it to be.

Slowness--that was one of those ideas, in a way. That I move slowly, process things slowly, figure out what's going on inside my head slowly, make slow progress towards where I'd like to be. If I am going to be content with who I am and not frustrated with myself (through comparison to other people or even simply with my own goals), I am going to have to accept turtle speed.

Turtles are referred to in a rather well-known fable as "slow and steady." "Slow and steady wins the race" is the moral of it. As I consider my life and find reassurance in my perspective on it, I would like to make an addendum--"slow and steady and in the right direction wins the race."

A little obvious, maybe. Still, it's worth thinking about, especially if we're talking about the race as a metaphor for life. No one ever won a race by running away from the goal. We run (or walk or crawl) towards the right goal if we have any desire to win the prize.

That is my comfort right now. That, maybe I'm not at the destination I'd like to be at, and maybe I am not making progress as quickly as I would like, but I do believe that I am going slowly and steadily in the right direction.

Speaking of the destination versus the journey (and slow and steady!): I went on a hike up a mountain during this past week. Now, I am not a person who tends to keep in amazingly athletic shape, so a hike up a mountain is rather a challenging experience for me. I was already sweaty and out of breath and wondering why I had come when I had probably only been going for a few minutes.

Some people felt that the proper way to do the hike was to stop quite often, and you would think I would have been one of them. However, I discovered that it was a lot easier for me to talk myself into simply continuing to put one foot in front of another than it was to stop and go and stop and go again, which would have entailed continually convincing myself to start again. It really was "slow and steady" that kept me going up that mountain.

Then, I got to the view that was supposed to be the destination of the hike and therefore, in my head, supposed to be the purpose, the reward. Maybe for some people it worked out that way, but not for me. The view was pretty, but not worth the trouble of the hike, especially not considering that I'm scared of heights, so I didn't really enjoy looking at it that much, and I kept freaking out about other people being what I thought (irrationally) was "too close" to the edge.

Do I regret going on the hike because I didn't enjoy the view as much as I could have? Not one bit. The awesome part of the hike was the hike. Pushing myself to keep going and finding that I could and enjoying the feeling of making an effort and enjoying the camaraderie and conversation with my fellow hikers.

It might also be that the truly best part of that hike was considering it as a metaphor. I should not be nearly so worried about when I am going to "arrive" or where I am going to "arrive" at. I should by all means keep going--in the right direction--and learn to enjoy the journey itself.