Lately, the practice of prayer has been in my head and my heart. As an RCIA teacher, one thing I have learned is that if you want to “talk the talk”, no one is going to listen to you if you are not “walking the walk.” Now, that is not to say that I have ignored my prayer life all my life, or that I feel obligated to strengthen it just because I am teaching the faith—I feel like prayer has always been an important thing for me—but I definitely feel the call right now to dig even deeper in my prayer life, and to come to know and love Him more intimately than ever before.
For me, a lot of what I have always dubbed as my prayer in my life is what you can think of as the “Martha” stuff (see Luke 10:38-42). I have always, always been a busy body—I have to have something to do, and am the master (ok, more like, “master”) of multi-tasking. Even when relaxing I’m usually busy folding laundry or making plans for the week. So much business. Yet, even in all this, I have always talked to God in my head while doing these things—there’s always been an ongoing dialogue with Him in all this. (Or maybe it is more real to call it a monologue, with a very patient and quiet God listening on the other end of my chatter). I have never had a problem being the Martha, and I am sure most of us relate more to her than to Mary.
One thing that I forget in all of this, is exactly what Lk. 10:40 describes: “But Martha was distracted with much serving.” That is such a funny sentence, considering one of the main themes of Christianity is serving others, and loving them above yourself (see Philippians 2:3-4 as an example). I have always loved serving others (most especially my family). For me, the little means of serving my family have always been a blessing and great sign of love. Folding my husband’s socks and putting his clothes away are not mundane tasks, but have always been my way of lightening his load—it has meaning and purpose, and because of that it becomes an act of love instead of a meaningless task. Doing the dishes doesn’t so much come from my desire for cleanliness itself, but rather the peace that comes with it (it is much easier for my husband and I to relax in a clean home vs. a messy one). Creating an environment for peace in my home has always been a priority for me, for I’ve learned that where there is peace it is much easier to love.
I can just picture the scenario: Martha has the incredible opportunity to welcome Jesus into her home, and she is so excited by this opportunity that she busies herself in preparation. I can only imagine her anxiety! Whenever I have people come into my home I make it a big priority to make sure they feel as welcomed as possible: I clean the house; sweep the floors; make sure there is food on the table. I can only imagine the restlessness in trying to prepare for the Lord’s coming! I know that I would be on my knees looking under the refrigerator for grime, scrubbing the toilets, making my best meal. I get anxious even thinking about it…
Yet here in this scripture, serving is referred to as a “distraction”. A distraction? How can serving be a distraction, when it is a sign of love?
We find the answer in Mary’s response to the Lord’s coming.
Where Martha felt the need to prepare for the Lord’s coming (to wash the dishes, put away her laundry, clean the countertops, cook a nice meal for him), Mary felt the presence of the Lord’s coming. Where Martha busied herself getting ready for the Lord, Mary sat down with the Lord. As scripture says, she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.”
Mary was enraptured and captivated by his love.
I picture a different scenario with Mary: Mary too is excited by the news of the Lord’s coming. I picture Mary trying to help Martha, yet she gets distracted in anticipation. She picks up a rag to help her sister, but cannot help herself from running to the window again and again to see if he has yet arrived. When he finally walks through the door, she sees him and she falls at his feet. She desires so greatly to just be in his presence. She knows the importance of getting ready for the Lord, but she also recognizes that just being in his presence is the highest priority.
How much beauty is there in resting in the presence of God, in taking the time to choose the “good portion”, as Jesus calls it! This is exactly what I tend to neglect and forget in my prayer life. I forget to take the time to be at peace with God, and to practice being in his presence. This is another level of prayer—the level which recognizes a real and living God who desires that we come to him, to communicate with him, and to rest in his peace.
He calls us to himself all the time. I know it and I even feel it when I busy myself with my “to-do” list. I hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my ear, “stop, and come to me.” I can feel him calling me to prayer in a deeper way, yet often I shush him out, and continue on with what I am doing, reasoning with him that this is my way of loving him.
Yet, I have experienced those times when I respond in faith to that call, stop what I am doing, and put myself in his presence. That is when my closeness to God is strengthened the most. It only takes that stopping. It takes me stopping what I am doing, stopping my worrying about the things I need to “get done”, and focusing solely on my prayer to God in that moment. Jesus says that the “good portion will not be taken away” from us. He reminds us in this story that all the “stuff” we have to get done, all of our business, all of this doesn’t matter in the long run. Sure, it matters in the here and now, and surely there are things that we do need to get done, but spending time with Him and being in his presence is something that will never leave us. This relationship we develop with God is sustaining, and will go on long after anything here on earth.
As Peter Kreeft says, “Stop being Martha; if you don’t, you cannot be Mary. You cannot sit at the Lord’s feet while you are running around on your own feet. You cannot hear him if you are frothing at the mouth and fussing at the fingers. You cannot look unless you first stop; you cannot practice the presence of God if you are just too busy for him.”
Stopping is the first step towards strengthening your prayer life. If you hear the Lord calling you, or maybe even recognize that there is too much static going on in your life and head to even hear the Lord’s call, stop what you are doing. Take the time to sit, and be still. Practice his presence.
May we all be a little more like Mary and seek to be in the presence of God.