Note: In these next two sections of the retreat I am indebted to Frances Taylor Gench and her book “Back to the Well: Women’s Encounters with Jesus in the Gospels.”
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
NOTE: IN THESE NEXT TWO SECTIONS OF THE RETREAT I AM INDEBTED TO FRANCES TAYLOR GENCH AND HER BOOK “BACK TO THE WELL: WOMEN’S ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS IN THE GOSPELS.”
Take a few moments to become fully present and attentive to God’s invitation for you in this next part of the retreat.
Take some deep breaths.
Do some stretching.
Drink some water. (Never underestimate the wonders of hydration!)
Ask the Lord to give you an awareness of His nearness as you continue.
At least once a week during the pandemic we have been ordering food from a local restaurant. This invariably leads to one of my least favorite things in life: choosing what to order with my wife. The conversation is infuriatingly similar every time:
“What do you want?”
“I don’t know, what do you want?”
“I don’t know, what sounds good?”
“I don’t know…”
One night as we procrastinated well past dinner time, getting crankier and hungrier by the minute, my wife exclaimed, “I’ve made all the choices already today! I’m too tired to choose what to eat!” We realized that in the midst of homeschooling our kids while trying to work virtually, we were so exhausted that the prospect of making one more choice at the end of the day seemed insurmountable. Choosing is tiring!
The power of choice can become exhausting because it requires exercising our will over and over again (this is even more tiring for certain personality types!). We each make countless choices each day, and for many of us both the frequency and the weight of our choices have been heightened during the pandemic. So the prospect of choosing life each day, every day in every way, can sound exhausting and feel insurmountable. Luckily, Jesus shows us an easy way to start choosing life in Luke 10:38-42 in the story of Mary and Martha.
The story is familiar to many of us. Jesus is welcomed into the home of His friends and “supporters," Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Jesus often accepted hospitality and gifts from supporters (Luke 8:2-3), and taught His disciples to do the same in the course of their ministry (Luke 10:7-8). This is no doubt a comfort to us in Young Life, who are sustained and encouraged by gifts from supporters!
During His stay, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He was saying (Luke 4:39). The Greek word ēkouen in the imperfect tense (a past action that continues into the present, e.g. “continuing to listen”) conveys the ongoing and intense concentration of Mary as she listens to Jesus.
“Sitting at Jesus’ feet” is the classic description of discipleship, and Mary here is a shining example for all true disciples.
Martha, however, is distracted and working hard. Some translations (NLT for one) convey that Martha was busy preparing the meal, but the Greek word used for Martha’s work, diakonia, is also used to denote “ministry” by the author of Luke/Acts in other instances (Acts 1:17; 1:25, 6:4). Moreover, the gospel author uses the word “distracted” to describe Martha here in verse 40, which is perispaomai in Greek (curiously the only time in the New Testament that this word is used) and also in the imperfect tense, conveying an ongoing state of busyness and anxiety. We in Young Life can easily relate to Martha, for we are often hard at work in ministry and often find ourselves busy, anxious or distracted.
Tell your loving Ab-ba and let him hold those things as He does you and the whole world, in the palm of His hands.
Martha asks Jesus to tell her sister to help her with the work, but Jesus declines, telling Martha that she is “worried and distracted by many things;” the Greek word Jesus uses for “distracted” here is merimnas, which is also used in the parable of the sower to describe the seeds that are choked by life’s worries (Luke 8:14) and in Jesus’ teaching about not worrying (Luke 12:22-31).
Then Jesus makes a bold statement that would have definitely caught the attention of His hearers:
Henos, the Greek word for one, conveys absoluteness. There is no confusion in Jesus’ words. Yet Jesus promptly qualifies his bold statement somewhat in verse 42: “Mary has chosen the better part,” (NRSV, emphasis added).
What Mary has chosen is important, yet still just a part of the whole. The work of ministry (diakonia) is also an important part of discipleship. Jesus Himself is our example of this, as His ministry contained much action and work. But the first and better part of discipleship is sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him. If we listen to Jesus first, He will always lead us into proper action in the proper time.
Choice underlies the story. Mary has made a choice, and Martha has made a choice. Echoing back to the first part of this retreat, Mary has chosen life by choosing Jesus, who proclaims Himself to be “the resurrection and the life”. (These are words Jesus spoke to Martha in John 11:25, by the way. She was the first to run out and meet Jesus, while Mary lagged behind at home. It is good to remember, people are complex, lest we judge Martha too harshly.) This gives clarity to a fundamental truth that we in Young Life must remember: choosing Jesus and choosing to minister in Jesus’ name are two different things. When we confuse these things, we can easily become merimnas: busy and anxious.
Both are good. Both are essential. Ask Jesus if there is any imbalance between the two that needs to be corrected, and if so, how you can correct it.
Perhaps you feel like Martha: distracted and worried, working hard with no help, alone in your toil and your anxiety.
Perhaps you feel like me and my wife: tired from all the choices you’ve been making and their weighty consequences, too tired to choose what to eat for dinner, let alone to choose life.
Hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 (the Message):
As we explored in retreat three, Jesus wants us to travel at the pace of being known. The pace of Jesus’ life is marked by withdrawal and engagement, prayer and ministry, solitude and community. It is when we follow Jesus’ example and live at his pace that we are known by the Father and can in turn know Him, know ourselves and know others. I fear that in Young Life we often favor too heavily the part of ministry and action and neglect the part of contemplation and silent listening.
One simple way to choose life is to, like Mary, choose to spend time listening to Jesus. The practice of contemplative prayer can help us. Contemplative prayer is prayer without words, where listening is emphasized over speaking. In contemplative prayer we adopt the posture of Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what He has to say. Contemplative prayer is akin to sitting quietly with a dear friend or loved one, where words or activities are not necessary and just the sweet presence of the other person is more than enough.
Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted or distracted, either indoors or outdoors. This may be easier said than done during this pandemic. Ideally it should be a place where you feel at ease.
Sit in a comfortable yet attentive position, shoulders upright so that your whole body carries the weight of your head; feet flat on the floor; perhaps hands open and palms up in our lap.
Take a few deep breaths to become present in your body and present to Christ, by whom we take our every breath.
Sit silently with Jesus. This may be quite difficult without getting antsy or falling asleep. If you find it helpful you can…
• Repeat Jesus’ words, “One thing,” if your mind wanders as a way to refocus yourself.
• Do this while walking with Jesus. For some of us, sitting still is torture! If that is you, that’s OK! You can start by walking with Jesus. Hopefully you can eventually be able to sit still with Jesus. (If you are aware of your Enneagram number, numbers eight, nine and one especially need the spiritual discipline of sitting still to facilitate the formation of Christ in us. It goes against our grain, which is a form of death to self. Uncomfortable, but essential.) Just remember the contemplative principle: No words.
• Look at this *icon of our scene.
Notice what catches your eye and/or where your eyes linger. Feel free to examine all the different parts of the icon and/or focus on one part that stands out to you.
*Icons are specially designed visual works of two-dimensional art, usually paintings, that depict a Christian scene or character for the purpose of helping the viewer experience God in greater depth and reality. Icons are especially sacred in the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity, where they are considered to be the very meeting places of God and humans (or “thin places” as we have previously learned), and thus avenues of God’s presence, grace, blessing, and protection. Regardless of your tradition, icons can help the scriptures come alive and are useful aids in spiritual formation and discipleship, particularly for those of us who are more visually or artistically inclined.
Do this for as long as you want to/can. Start with a few minutes (you can set a timer if that is helpful). Stop by saying, “Amen.” End the practice knowing that Jesus was with you, however long or short, and that no grand revelations or lessons are needed to justify the time you spent with him. Time with Jesus is always time well spent!
(Optional- Step 6): If you have any thoughts or any words for Jesus afterwards, feel free to write them out and/or say them as a prayer.
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