Choosing That Good Part
This year, Mary and I decided to deleaven our house in the most exhausting way possible:
Extensive. Home. Remodeling.
See, we’re hosting the Night to Be Much Remembered this year, so we wanted to liven up the room with a bit of paint. (Currently most of our walls and ceilings are a color I can only describe as Nicotine Yellow. Everything else—I’m talking doors, baseboards, trim, tile, switches, everything—is a lovely shade of “I Heard This Goes With Everything” Beige.) The immediate problem: Our vintage 1967 home is filled with vintage 1967 lead paint. That alone wouldn’t be an issue (we could just paint right over it), but we’ve got a lot of cracks throughout the house thanks to a bad sheetrock taping job, so painting over it would just temporarily mask the underlying problem until it gets worse. Which it will.
As you can imagine, the past two weeks have been busy. I’ve been peeling away old tape, exposing seams, retaping, remudding, and retexturing—all things that are completely new and terrifying to me, and all things that I have to do after isolating the rooms with big plastic sheets so I don’t spread lead dust throughout the house. And we (well, mostly I) figured, hey, since I’m going to be making a mess of things anyway, now is probably a good time to install those can lights and fan we’ve been wanting. That meant time in the attic pulling wires and running circuits, then carving out space for new switches and making sure everything was doing what is was supposed to do. Then and only then would we be able to start painting. (Remember painting? The thing that launched this whole project?)
We’re just now entering the painting phase, because this is a construction project and Murphy’s Law is not to be mocked. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, sometimes multiple times. Plastic sheets fell down. Wires got stuck. I got halfway through remudding before realizing I hadn’t taped the seams yet. Trying to match knockdown texture was an impossible nightmare. The paint we bought from Lowe’s was the wrong tint. Half of our house was really only accessible by first walking outside, and it poured buckets all week long. I ran out of mud. I ran out of masking tape. I ran out of duct tape. I was doing a lot of this first thing after work and going until midnight, so I frequently ran out of stamina and patience, too. I was frazzled and stressed and angry and exhausted and just not handling anything particularly well. I was the dog from the “This is fine” meme.
I don’t think my experience is particularly unique. I think we’ve all had spurts of that insane kind of stressful business—the kind that asks you to give 120% and leaves you feeling burned out before you’ve even finished. In fact, it reminds me of a Bible story most of us know pretty well:
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was stressed. She was distracted with much serving. She was hosting the miracle-working Teacher who had the whole countryside abuzz with everything He was saying and doing—the most preeminent guest she had ever had under her roof.
And Mary was just sitting there.
Who knows what kind of spread Martha was trying to set up? Who knows how much effort what she was doing required? And then to look over in the middle of it all only to discover that her own sister had abandoned her to take care of everything on her own—it was too much. She confronted Jesus with the injustice of it all: “Lord, do You not care?”
Christ’s response was gentle, but firm: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus didn’t say that the dishes didn’t need to be done. He didn’t say that food and the comfort of others was unimportant, so don’t worry about it. He said that one thing was needed. One thing was paramount. One thing was so important that it outweighed everything else, and Mary was busy doing it. Martha was worried and troubled about the things that didn’t matter as much; the things that had significance in the moment but were ultimately inconsequential.
How often are we coming to sit at the feet of the Master?
During the most frustrating moments of my recent remodeling adventure, Jesus could have told me the same thing He told Martha: “Jeremy, Jeremy, you are worried and troubled about many things.”
The project was important. Getting everything done before the holy days was important. Doing a good job was important.
But one thing was needed. While I was busy pushing myself until I was ready to collapse, I was spending less time sitting at Jesus’ feet and hearing what He had to say. I did my best to squeeze in a chapter of reading every night, but let’s be honest—speed-reading through a single chapter of Proverbs at midnight is a far cry from really engaging with the Word of God. It’s a lesson I keep learning and relearning—there is no substitute for taking the time to sit at the Master’s feet and listen. It doesn’t matter how busy, how hectic, how important, how urgent everything else might be—one thing is needed. That good part. And if we make the effort to choose it, God promises it won’t be taken away from us.
As I look to the weeks and months ahead, there’s still a lot on the docket. We have to finish painting. We have to finish deleavening. There’s a church campout coming up. We’ve got plans to visit with both our families soon. Oh, and Mary’s pregnant.
(Did I not mention that? Yeah, we’re going to have a baby. End of August, probably. We’re ecstatic—absolutely over the moon about it. We’ve been praying about it for a long time now, and I know others have been, too. It’s thrilling, but it’s also a guarantee that our lives are about to be filled with quite a few more urgent and important things. We’re going to have to learn how to juggle all of those new things and still make time for God. How? I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.)
What I think is interesting about the account of Mary and Martha is that it just ends there. We don’t know how Martha responded. Did she go back to serving, still grumbling? Did she wrap up what she was doing as quickly as she could with a newly adjusted focus? Or did she drop everything and join her sister in listening to Christ’s words? We can’t be sure, but it’s fun to wonder about. I like to think the light bulb went off for Martha and she made time to sit down as soon as possible, but who knows? The lesson for us is the same, regardless:
Life is going to get busy, and it’s not always going to be with pointless distractions. There are days and weeks (and probably years) where our to-do list will be crammed full with important things that need to get done—sometimes through no fault of our own and sometimes through our own poor planning. But Jesus’ reply to Martha was recorded as a reminder for us—never forget what’s most important.
Passover is coming up quickly. Our enemy would love to distract us with lots of to-dos—even ones that matter.
One thing is needed. Choose that good part. Make time to sit at the Master’s feet.
Until next time,
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