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Doing the One Necessary Thing

Lent began last Wednesday. Did you give something up? I am giving up being busy by saying “no” to anything new during Lent. My aim is not to practice an empty ritual or to give myself an out for serving others. It’s to make space for God.
As I’ve been pondering busyness and the many things that fill my life, I’ve been reflecting on the familiar story of Mary and Martha. You know the one. Jesus comes to their house for dinner. Martha is stuck in the kitchen preparing the meal, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha complains to Jesus that Mary’s not helping her. But Jesus affirms Mary’s choice, calling it the “one necessary thing.”
Thanks to my friend Ann, I’ve been pondering more deeply the details of this narrative. It’s all well and good to blame Martha for her distraction from Jesus, but what about the meal? If Martha had joined Mary at Jesus’ feet, would they all have skipped dinner? We can only speculate.
Jesus seems to be saying to Martha that Mary is doing the only necessary thing by sitting and listening to him. And while I can certainly concede that listening to Jesus is a first-order necessity, aren’t there other necessities too, even if of lesser importance? If only one thing is necessary, does that mean we can sit and listen to Jesus all day and disregard our other responsibilities?
Faithfulness in our daily lives means listening to Jesus. As a parent, faithfulness in my daily life also means taking steps to feed and care for my little ones. And that includes making dinner.
If my other important tasks, like feeding my family, distract me from Jesus, something has to change. But Jesus understands that we have physical needs as well as spiritual needs—he got tired and hungry too!
Most of us aren’t called to be desert fathers and mothers, spending most of our time in quiet contemplation. Instead, our lives are a mix of active and contemplative times. But if our activity is frenetic, stressful, and never-ending, we are missing out on the one necessary thing.
To make more space for sitting at Jesus’ feet, I’m simplifying other necessities. We still need to eat, but we don’t need elaborate meals. I don’t want to miss out on sitting at Jesus’ feet because I’m distracted by meal prep. Here’s to crock-pot cooking during Lent!
Anna Moseley Gissing

Anna Moseley Gissing is Associate Academic Editor of InterVarsity Press. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her writing has been published in Let us Keep the Feast and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids, and she aspires to more reading, more writing, and more patience.

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