Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Many Things

“Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” ~ Luke 10.42

There is a long stanza in Wordsworth’s Ode about the many stages in a man’s life – stages of love and strife, of weddings and funerals, action and contemplation. Man moves, with a dissatisfied hunger, from one state to another - always, with "joy and pride," fitting himself to another new part, like an actor who is endlessly vying for a new role. By the time he arrives at “palsied Age” man has inhabited a great many persons and done a great many things - tempting the poet to wonder, with just a hint of lugubriousness in his tone, whether "[man's] whole vocation" is little more than "endless imitation.”

The rhapsodic line tripped about my mind all morning, as I was driven – not (quite) to drink, but to distraction.

I had been sitting at the table for approximately thirty-six uninterrupted seconds, attempting to read the gospel of Matthew, when Evangeline, in her high chair, her pink cheeks plastered with peanut butter, urgently signed for water. When I opened the refrigerator I saw the little puddle of spilled soda which had been firming itself into place for two days – Oh, I really must clean this! I thought, but when I reached for a rag I remembered the wash – the wash! I really must change it! But - wait, had I remembered to put that check in the mail? ...

I was just addressing the envelope when there came the slap, slap of bare feet behind me. There, like an apparition, stood Audrey in her fairy costume, waving a tattered pair of wings. “Mommy, can you put these on for me? So I can fly. So I can fly?

"But dearest," I wanted to say, "it is Mommy who wants to fly... far and away!" I sighed; I smiled; I bent down to attach the wings. “Really, William," I muttered, talking aloud to Wordsworth - because there is nothing better, in harried moments, than to begin imaginary conversations with dead poets - "If you're going to speak of my experience, you should alter the last line: for the whole vocation of a mother is one of endless interruption.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh articulates this problem with an amusing mixture of insight and wit in her book, Gift from the Sea, in which she writes, “I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.”

I agree with Lindbergh. Whether or not we are mothers or managers of large households, I think most women live in a perpetual state of interruption – of negotiating how to respond to the shower of demands that rain upon us from all sides, at all times, and from all sorts of venues. If my own experience is any judge, it is all too easy to flutter about from one task to another without stopping to scrupulously, and prayerfully, consider which demands are to be submitted to, and which deferred or denied.

My impulse – admittedly very childish – is simply to run away from life's demands and distractions...to look for a loophole, a keyhole - even a rabbit hole - so long as I can escape.

But as so many children's stories deftly illustrate - it is one thing to want to run away; it is another thing entirely to have identified where, precisely, one wants to run to.

Upon careful reflection, I realize that I really long to go to that place where, in the words of GM Hopkins, "no storms come;" "where the green swell is in the havens dumb / and out of the swing of the sea."

In short, I long for heaven, and the beauty, tranquility, and unhurried fellowship with Christ - and with other people - which are its hallmarks.

However this realization comes as both liberation and limitation - for I cannot fly to Heaven any more than Audrey can flit through the looking glass to Wonderland. For now God has planted my two feet on the earth - wriggling amongst its mud and flowers.

Because I cannot escape life's storms, I must learn to live amidst them - recognizing that the peace I long for is only found in Christ, who "Himself is our peace" (Ephesians 2.14).

And yet, as I wrestle through such things, I cannot help but feel a certain sympathy for Martha who, the Scriptures say, was "distracted" or "cumbered" by "much serving" (KJV). The Greek word merimnao, from which the word “worried” is translated, is defined as “to care for or look out for (a thing)" as well as “to take thought of [it].” The context of the passage, alongside Jesus's gentle rebuke, implies to me that Martha was not just being careful to attend to her guests - which is something any gracious hostess would do - but she was being too careful, allowing such concerns to inhibit her from spending time with Christ.

As a wife and mother, there are many days when I too am "cumbered about much serving." Administering meals and all the household concerns which accompany them are part of my daily life - and they will be for as long as God gives me these parts to play. But to accept such responsibilities should not be tantamount to allowing them to rule my life and consume all my energy. “Be carefully careless about everything except your relationship to Christ,” says Oswald Chambers.

If I was held at gunpoint, and absolutely forced to pick a life motto, this might very well be it.

Thankfully, no such dangers are upon me. Instead, I face the danger of neglecting the one thing that is most important - and this is what causes me to shudder. For in the end (which is really the beginning), when I meet my Savior face to face, I want Him to commend me for having chosen what was better - even if it means letting the spilled soda sit in the fridge a few days longer.


B Dunlap said...

Wow. Just, wow. Heather, this post was amazing. Can you just be sure to carve out enough time to compile more of these musings into a book of devotions? Otherwise I'm going to have to start printing out all your inspired writings, and they will be in a big messy stack. Adding another mess to my busy days. Really, the best solution would be to publish a book of devotions. Please get on that, when you have a spare second, of course!

our family said...

Love this post. Love you.

Mom said...

Thank you for the great reminder to lift my hands up and give this new day to the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in it and not be frustrated with all the hoopla! He is my rock and my salvation - not all this other stuff. XOXOX

Joseph Anfuso said...

I heartily second B Dunlap's exhortation to compile your musings into a book of devotions. Actually, I KNOW this will happen someday. So, I guess my comment is more about expectation than exhortation. I look forward to holding your devotional in my hands!