Sixteenth Century Comfort for Twenty-First Century Fears


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices. —St. Teresa of Avila

Sometimes when I’m stroking my dachshund Dudley’s ears it comes over me—the smothering inevitability that, sooner or later, I will stroke my pup one last time. Perhaps it will be on a stainless-steel table with the drip of an IV in the background. I will go home to a house without his corn chip smell or the fluffy entrails of a toy littering my living room.

One day, Dudley will pass away. Everything does.

Sometimes I withdraw my hand from his ears. Maybe it would be easier to disconnect from him now, I think, before time drills the well of my love any deeper.

Several months ago, my friend Kaitlyn bought a bouquet of peonies for her house. “I was smelling and admiring them, and all of a sudden this bittersweetness came over me,” she said. “I often find myself looking to the future and thinking, ‘Soon this will be over, dead, gone’ and it robs me of the joy in the moment.”

The grass withers and the flower fades.

I feel that way with seasons, especially summer and fall. Winter might as well be the end of life as I know it. Winter will end, but just after summer, it will return.

Sometimes I feel that way about life. I’m 34—might as well be 70. Life isn’t over yet, but it will be.

We finish our years like a sigh.

In her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” Yes, Mary, always too soon.

Melancholies like me recognize the gravity of the situation we’re in. We are at once taken with the world’s beauty, with the wonder of life, yet saddened at the mortality and the passing of everything.

In her search for comfort, Kaitlyn discovered St. Teresa’s words and shared them with me.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:

That was St. Teresa’s sixteenth century version of “Now, don’t panic, but. . . .” All the pretty flowers, your dog, your friends and family, the world, your life—all disintegrating and fading away. Gee, St. Teresa—why would I panic?

But she didn’t stop there.

God never changes.

In a world hurtling toward the end, the only sure thing is God. All changing things highlight that point even more.

Patience obtains all things.

The Latin word patientia, from which we get our English word patience, literally means “suffering.” We often think of patience as simply waiting. In reality, patience is waiting uncomfortably but enduring. Patience obtains all things because it withstands all things to get what’s at the finish line. And what is at the finish line?

Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

We don’t just wait passively for heaven at the end of life. God has already given us everything we need while we’re waiting—grace, hope, faith, love, all found in him.

The Unchanging Things

Solomon, also a melancholy, reminds us that God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). I don’t know about you, but even with eternity in my heart, mortality often has me by the throat. Surrounded by the transient aspects of life, I can so easily forget to focus on what God has promised will last forever.

“I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

“You have the poor with you always.” (Matthew 26:11)

“The word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:25)

“He who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)

Though the world churns with circumstances I am not powerful enough to subdue, I have these always things to focus on—God, His Word, and people.

I can rest peacefully, courageously, patiently in knowing that God holds my times in His hands. With each change and loss, He offers unchanging grace to pass through them.

God alone suffices.

Duty, Love, and the Loose Banister Knob

Stair Knob 2

Remember that scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, at the end of George Bailey’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? He rants to Mary, “It’s this old house. This drafty old barn. Why did we have to live here in the first place? Why did we have to have all these kids?”

In stark contrast to his tirade, he retreats upstairs to comfort one of those kids, Zuzu. But on his way, he’s ambushed by that loose banister knob, his old nemesis. You can see it in his eyes, in the snarl of his lip—he wants to lob the thing across the room.

But of all that George does that day—chew out the teacher, yell at his kids, frighten his wife, demolish his office, call his uncle a “silly, stupid old fool,” insult an angel—he doesn’t throw that knob. A thing that has no feelings or senses, he spares.

I recently read a blog post calling George selfish, entitled, and ungrateful. Since we’re watching a heavenly highlights reel of his life, we don’t have the luxury of seeing George on the innumerable days when he might have pleasantly wrestled with his kids in the living room or eagerly planned a picnic up at Bedford Falls. But it’s true—you don’t get the sense throughout the film that George ever was truly grateful or satisfied with his life as it was.

George stayed in Bedford Falls because he felt a duty to the people his father had cared for so deeply. But though he stayed, he despised it all—the town, its people, his own sense of duty, and, in the end, the sum of his very life. Nothing had turned out the way George had expected.

That loose knob represented his imperfect life

That loose knob embodied his imperfect life and all that George hadn’t gotten around to—seeing the world, building skyscrapers a mile high, and fully renovating that drafty old house. But ironically, I think that’s why George spared the ornery knob. To toss it meant more than merely indulging his anger—it meant tossing aside what represented his everyday life with its joy and hardship. And he didn’t really want to throw all that away.

In fact, I don’t think suicide had crossed George’s mind at all. Jail, yes. Escape, perhaps. But when Potter says, “You’re worth more dead than alive,” the light bulb really went on—or out—in George’s head. And to pragmatic George, suicide would solve everything: he could save his company and family, keep the Building and Loan out of Potter’s paws, and finally shake off the crummy life he’d been trying to escape for years.

Then Angel Second Class Clarence reveals what life without him would look like for the people he loved the most. And on the bridge, in the moments before time and reality merged again, George cries, “Please God, I don’t care what happens to me. Only get me back to my wife and kids.” He had learned—or chosen to acknowledge—what was more important. Not all that he didn’t have but rather all that he did have.

Duty is good—but love is infinitely better.

It’s an intentional practice to love an imperfect thing, to embrace less than our lofty expectations. But when we cannot muster love, we call upon duty. To be sure, duty is commendable and good—but love is infinitely better. Duty gets the job done; love lifts the burden of an impossible task, bringing not just survival but joy. I’m thankful that God can use our efforts done out of duty—but I wonder how much more we could accomplish with love?

For years, George led the Building and Loan on duty. But as he ran through the town at the movie’s end, he yelled jubilantly, “Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan.” Only a man who had switched his motive to love could speak such fondness to the institution that had caused him so much disappointment and grief.

As he ran up the stairs, delirious with joy to see his kids, what did George do to the banister knob in his hand? He kissed it. Kissed it!

I’d like to think that his hard days became a bit lighter after that (not only because of his angelic encounter, but also because he probably never put Uncle Billy on bank duty again). I’d like to think that after Potter withered away and after the hardship of the war dissipated, things lightened up on George at the Building and Loan. I’d like to think that after he raised all those kids and got them out of that drafty old house, he saved enough money to take Mary on a tour of Europe. I’d like to think that as he headed into the 1950s and 60s, he griped less, felt less sorry for himself, and truly loved others—and his own life—more.

But I don’t think he ever fixed that stair knob. I think he loved it just the way it was—imperfect yet wonderful in every way.



The Lines I Love the Most


Christmas music can be a real source of contention.

You’ve got the people who start playing their seasonal tunes way back in September and those who refuse to crank up the carols until after Thanksgiving. You’ve got houses divided over “Christmas Shoes” and “Feliz Navidad.” You’ve got church divas who emerge from their pews to perform ear-splitting renditions of “O Holy Night,” and we’ve all experienced the hostage situation of singing every verse in “The First Noel.”

But no matter the songs that you love or love to hate, let’s face it: there are only so many Christmas carols, and we sing them over and over during the advent season. Like anything that we know by heart, the lyrics can get pretty common place. But when you really listen, the words are rich and radiant—just the sort of message that we need to get us through the long, dark days of the year.

Here are a few lines that I love the most.

I Heard the Bells

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

O Come All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant. . . . Come and behold Him, born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

To read about what this song means to me, check out my post “Who Wouldn’t Want To?”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here; O drive away the shades of night and pierce the clouds and bring us light.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night! Son of God, loves pure light radiant gareth-harper-dabkxsptaek-unsplash.jpgbeams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace—Jesus Lord at Thy birth.

Joy to the World

Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

In thy dark street shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

O Come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.

Good Christian Men, Rejoice

Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice; now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door, and we are blest forevermore. Christ was born for this!

O Holy Night

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger, in all our trials born to be our friend.

Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love, and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.

In the Bleak Midwinter

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give him? Give him my heart.

I’d love to hear what Christmas carols speak the most to you during this season of celebrating the wonder of Christ’s birth. Let me know in the comments. 


What the Smartest Man I Know Taught Me About People and Things

Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC

Dr. Bowen, a history and pre-law professor at the college where I taught, is a thinker and reader and one of the smartest men I know. When we worked together in the college’s publishing department during the summer, I sometimes asked him questions just to hear how deep the answer would go. An inquiry about the US Constitution led to a lecture on Congress’s salary which delved into discussing Prohibition and ended with an expose’ on the 1918 Spanish Influenza. He could take a conversation from clown phobia to health insurance regulation in under two minutes. It was all connected! He knew a little bit about everything—and probably a lot about, well, a lot.

During our lunch break, I often saw him in the cafeteria at a table by himself, reading a book between bites of salad. As an introvert myself, I understood that his solitude wasn’t a plea for pity or an invitation for company. It was a table for one, and that one was perfectly content to be alone.

Dr. Bowen once told me that he enjoyed eating lunch with his book, but he said, “When someone asks if they can sit with me, I close the book because people are more important than ideas.”

I’ve never forgotten that.

People are more important than ideas.

If I had been Dr. Bowen, I might have told the people to move along because I struggle to acknowledge the superiority of people over ideas and information. I can’t imagine that spending an evening in a small-talk social setting would be more interesting than reading a book, watching a movie, sitting with my thoughts and a journal, or learning new information.

One morning a few weeks ago, I had been disappointed by one person and frustrated with another—and it was only 9:30. Sitting in my boss’s office, half listening to him talk about an assignment, I considered the difficulty of relationships and the prospect of moving to a remote spot where I could evade contact with human beings for the rest of my life (or at least for the day).

My misanthropic reverie dissipated when I spotted a cobweb on the window ledge, illuminated by the sunlight streaming in. After our meeting, I returned with a Clorox wipe to clear it away.

My boss grinned. “I have a spider friend at home on my back porch. I try to duck when I walk out the door so that I won’t disturb him. But I think he’s . . . corpulent? No, that’s not the right word.” He rolled his eyes up toward his brain, as if hoping to see the word peeking out from between the wrinkles of gray matter. After a few seconds, he gave up. “Eh. I can’t remember the word, but he comes out at dusk.”

Oh, it was a glorious moment as his elusive word leapt forward into my recollection like a small spark, eager to erupt in radiance. I smiled and offered, “Crepuscular.”

“That’s it!” His eyes widened, exaggerated by his bifocals. “I’m impressed that you knew that word!”

So was I, actually. I first noticed the word last year while I researched for an article about capybaras (the world’s largest rodent) which, like my boss’s spider, are active at dusk. I never wrote the article, but crepuscular stuck in my head for such a time as this.

A word had come through for me, unlike the people in my life. The fog of disappointment and frustration I’d felt earlier burned away in the heat of my golden vocabulary triumph. I was in full agreement with James Smithson who said,

“It is in knowledge that man has found his greatness and his happiness.”

And people? Well, they could eat my vocabulary dust.

Facts, figures, ideas, and words seem more enjoyable—and exponentially safer—than relationships.

But the smartest man I know—which in Smithson’s estimation also means the happiest and greatest man I know—put down his book and greeted small-talk chats over lunch. Clearly he valued what the Apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 13:

“And if I  . . . understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but have not love, I am nothing. . . . As for knowledge, it will pass away.”

I don’t believe Paul was implying that knowledge was insignificant. (Paul was a highly educated man who used that knowledge in his ministry.) But I think he meant to say something about our priorities.

The most clever information we can uncover, the most obscure words we can remember—these will pass away in eternity. In fact, some of that knowledge will pass away on earth. Words become archaic, and information expires. Only one thing retains its value here and in eternity: those we have known and loved.

Knowledge is my weakness, but money, possessions, experiences, talent, ambition—they’re all a table for one if we allow them to shut others out.

Dr. Bowen didn’t just humor people by letting them sit down. He always carried on an interesting conversation, imparting information or ideas, relishing in the joy not just of having knowledge but of sharing it with others. Information and people, it seems, are not mutually exclusive, but more satisfying in tandem.

ruby slippersBy the way, James Smithson, the guy I mentioned earlier? He left behind a fortune to fund a series of little museums you might have visited in Washington, DC—the Smithsonian Institute. In those halls you’ve probably seen the Hope Diamond, gaped at the ruby slippers, grinned at Mr. Rogers’ sweater, contemplated Lincoln’s top hat, squinted in the dark at the tattered Star Spangled Banner, and stared in wonder at Julia Child’s kitchen so close you could chop an onion on her table.

I think Mr. Smithson and Dr. Bowen would have gotten along—great and happy men, generous with knowledge and kindness.

And they could sit at my table anytime. I have a lot to learn.

6 Reasons to Massage Your Dog

October is Pet Wellness Month. I don’t know about you, but I’m all about figuring out what’s best for my dachshund, Dudley. In addition to choosing nutritious food, keeping him up to date on shots, and making sure he gets plenty of exercise, I’ve added another “wellness” factor to his routine.

It started when Dudley was a puppy. With his long body stretched out on the couch, he closed his eyes in bliss while I ran my fingers down his spine, pressed into his shoulders, and massaged my way up to his ears.

But far from being just another way to pamper my already well-loved hound, massages have provided some important benefits for both Dudley . . . and me.

  1. Massages relax us. Dudley usually gets a massage at bed time. The Dudleymethodical rhythm of working my fingers down his back and rubbing his velvety ears is relaxing. His eyes droop shut, and pretty soon he’s ready to tunnel under the covers and go “night night.” And me? Well, I just got cuddle time with my best friend, so, according to this new study, my stress levels have just taken a dive.
  2. Massages help with bad behavior and anxiety. Dudley fears many things: storm drains, hard floors, water, and fireplaces, to name a few. He’s also nervous about travel. So I hold him while we drive and massage him to calm his nerves. When he gets too stimulated with other dogs or has been giving us “attitude,” a massage helps him focus on resetting and behaving.
  3. Massages help you know when something isn’t right. Two years ago, I was rubbing Dudley when I felt a lump about the size of a half dollar on his hind leg. The next day the vet drew fluid from the lump and found that it was abnormal. Thankfully the lump—whatever it was—dissipated without surgery. This year, the lump came back and again disappeared. So we know to look for it next year around the same time. This year, we also discovered lumps on his neck, which turned out to be his lymph nodes swollen from allergies. We were able to start giving him medication to reduce the swelling.
  4. Massages find bugs. We give Dudley Bravecto, a 12-week pill that prevents fleas and ticks and—according to him—tastes like a treat. But whenever he has been outside, I rub him down and peek in his ears to make sure no creepy crawlies have latched on.
  5. Massages help with circulation and joint or muscle pain. You know how good it feels to get a massage on your tight neck? Your pup also gets sore joints and muscles, especially after a hike or long walk or a hard day of play. Massages help get blood flowing to his legs and to the spots that need healing.
  6. Massages help you bond. Years of my laying him on his back, rubbing in sensitive areas (like paws), or scratching his foot-thumping spot have given Dudley reason to trust me and know that I’ll give him good things. When I bend down, he walks right over to receive what goodness is coming to him. Touch and massage are a language  dogs understand.

The more you do it, the more you and your pup will enjoy a massage routine. And the great thing is that you can do it while watching TV, listening to an audio book, riding in the car, or lying in bed.

Now, my advice for how to massage your cat?

Very carefully.

6 Tips for Saving Energy (No Lightbulbs Involved)

Photo by Chris Li on Unsplash

Think about where you spend your energy in a day. I mean, besides the reasonable concerns—making a living, caring for family, being a decent person—consider the stuff we obsess over in the news and the suspicion whispered by conspiracy theorists and my mom’s friend Margaret.

In the late 90s, when our local grocery store, Bi-Lo, introduced a rewards card, Margaret called frantic. She had heard that, added together, the numbers on the card equaled 666. My mom fumbled for her card and tallied the numbers. Sure enough, the Mark of the Beast appeared beneath her pen like an omen. So there it was: the Anti-Christ would come riding in on the .50 cents savings on deli meat and gas points.

The Anti-Christ would come riding in on .50 cents savings on deli meat.

End-time paranoia aside, there are also unwanted opinions, callow memes from both sides of the political spectrum, discourteous coworkers, rude drivers, comment threads, mommy wars about antivaccination and breastfeeding, incompetent customer service representatives, the vacillating health benefits and hazards of eggs, hidden fees, family members who know better. . . . The point is, we can spend our daily allotment of energy in many places.

Maybe you don’t think of energy in daily allotments. I sure didn’t—at least not before last year.

One evening in January 2018, I was unable to move from my car, depleted by my rants and seething rage about a few people in my life. That night, after months of anger, my limbs felt numb and heavy. In the heaving sobs, I finally realized that I only possess a finite amount of energy—and I’d been throwing it in anemic directions.

I only possess a finite amount of energy

Since then I’ve started looking for ways to cut down on wasteful spending. Maybe you need to do the same.

Here are a few ways to conserve your energy so you can invest it in good places.

  1. Take time before responding. Last week someone left a patronizing response to something I posted on Facebook.  Laura started pounding out a message in my defense.  When it comes to conflict, I’m a big baby. So I begged her, “Please don’t, Pal. If it still matters to you tomorrow at noon, you can post it.”
    But by noon the next day, Laura just said, “Sometimes the best response to a stupid comment is silence.”
    May I recommend the same thing to you. Take a few minutes or hours or days before responding to an email or message or phone call or text. Time often gives perspective and shows us the insignificance of that zinger we had loaded in the chamber.
  2. Keep it to yourself.  We all need trustworthy friends who will listen and guide us when we’re blinded with frustration. But keep in mind that voicing your injustices, anger, and bitterness makes them grow hotter—especially when you put them on repeat. Speaking them into the world gives them air—like blowing on a flame. Scripture reminds us that the tongue is a fire and that “where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20). Maybe Southern women are onto something when they just shake their heads and say, “Bless their hearts.”
  3. Keep a journal. I’ve found that writing down arguments or injustices or gripes renders them impotent. Something about seeing them on a page, recorded for posterity, puts them into perspective. It also helps me avoid giving them air time (see point two). I often choose not to write something down at all.
  4. Give out grace. Grace is equal parts amazing and crazy, isn’t it? It’s illogical and unfair, a disproportional response to wrong doings and stupid people. But nothing is more godlike than “covering a transgression” with grace. This might mean searching out the motive behind a comment rather than reacting to it. Replying to an argument with kindness and empathy rather than angst. And, yes, ignoring an insignificant comment rather than giving a heated response meant to shame the commenter. Though grace costs us self-righteousness and self-gratification, it’s a whole lot easier on the energy bank account than revenge or reaction.
  5. Focus your energy in productive places. Energy is a resource. It can be thrown away frivolously, or it can be invested in something positive. As with any other resource, it’s ours to steward, to manage wisely. Find good places to invest your energy. Exploring and travel. Art. Reading. Research. Education. Ministry. Volunteering. Meaningful conversations. Silence. Just as there are limitless ways to waste our energy, there are boundless ways to invest it.
  6. Track your energy account. Now that I better understand myself and my tendencies, I monitor my “energy bank account” to track where my ardor is going (e.g., social media, repeating issues that bother me, worrying about something, obsessing over what I can’t change). If I wear myself out with the petty, I won’t have energy for the important. Get in the habit of evaluating everything you do to make sure you get a good return on your investment.

Do you have any other tips for saving energy? Any ideas for great places to invest?



More Like Martha: 4 Lessons I Never Heard in Sunday School



We read the biblical story of Mary and Martha like a public service announcement: Mary is good, Martha is bad. Martha is a sour puss, Mary is the guileless saint at Jesus’ feet. Be like Mary, not like Martha. (If you don’t know the story, read it real quick in Luke 10:38–42.)

Martha joins the biblical characters we often paint as unequivocally rotten: doubting Thomas, the prodigal son’s bitter older brother, Ruth’s unfaithful sister-in-law, and Jonah. We view these characters more like object lessons rather than folks who had bad days, made bad choices, behaved poorly, and then pulled themselves together, grew, learned, made better choices, and served God after their story leaves off in Scripture.

What if God intends for us to fill in some of the narrative with what we know about ourselves, others,—and Him?

The wonder of a book so holy and enduring as the Bible is that it features people like you and me. If we can forget the stereotypes and employ a little empathy and imagination, we’ll see how their full stories might have unfolded, and we might learn something new about how Christ can change us. (1)

For instance, the much maligned Martha has taught me some lessons I never heard in Sunday school.

1. Have hard conversations 

Like Martha, I would have been the one bustling around, fussing, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have mouthed off to the Messiah. Allowing my frustration to fester is more my game.

Ironically, I’m much more like Sarah. She also was busy serving when she overheard Jesus tell Abraham that she would have a son in her old age. Hearing the startling pronouncement, she giggled a bit under her breath. But when Jesus addressed her response, she denied it. “I did not laugh!”

But not Martha. No, Martha would fly at you with her complaint or judgment or, I imagine, anything else.

I read a quote recently that said,

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

Difficult conversations make me queasy. Whether I’m concerned about hurting someone’s feelings, upsetting a relationship, enduring the backlash of a response, or facing my own shortcomings, I don’t like bringing up hard topics. I’d rather lie or endure than face a problem head on.

But I’m learning, like Martha, to speak up when I’m hurt or concerned, to tell the truth when someone needs to hear it, to apologize when I’ve offended someone, to ask people hard questions. And that includes God. It’s surprisingly difficult to tell some things to a God who already knows everything. Admitting my failures or needs, talking to Him about the repressed issues that haunt me or the topics I don’t understand—my candor and questions don’t rile or rattle Him. And His response will always be exactly what I need to hear to help me grow closer to Him and others.

2. Christ speaks to us differently.

“Martha, Martha.”

I like to think that Jesus’ repetition of Martha’s name is less a scold than a comfort. Maybe Jesus isn’t telling her to hang up her soup ladle, let the bread burn, and take a knee. I think He is pulling her out of her flurry before validating her concern by acknowledging all that she had to do. (“You are cumbered about by many things.”) And then he gently tells Martha to mind her own business and reminds her of the most important thing: Himself.

After Lazarus dies, while Mary grieves at home, Martha runs to meet Jesus and expresses her confidence in his ability to have healed Lazarus—if only He had shown up on time. This time, Jesus calms her by having her repeat what she believes about His power and divinity.

When Mary comes out to greet Jesus, she says almost the same thing Martha had said about Jesus’ tardiness, and she weeps. But unlike His conversation with Martha, Jesus doesn’t talk Mary out of her grief or make her recall the finer points of her faith.

Instead, He simply weeps with her.

Jesus responded to Mary and Martha differently because, as the Bible says, He loved them. And though He is the same righteous God to all, He speaks to us in the specific ways that will best reach us.

His Word is universal and unique to each of us, powerful and personal, sharp as a sword and sweet as a whisper to our soul.

3. Making time for the “necessary things” is an intentional act.

That first time Martha served Jesus, I wonder if she was trying to make the Pinterest-perfect feast when she could have called out for pita delivery. Maybe she was seeking praise or trying to uphold her reputation rather than sacrificing to spend time with Jesus. Scripture says she was distracted, but I also wonder if she wasn’t jealous of Mary’s choice to embrace “the good part”—sitting at Jesus’ feet.

We always know what’s more important, don’t we?

Even if we choose not to act on it or value it, we know it sure enough. That unheeded knowledge often manifests itself in discontentment in our lives or jealousy of others. Caught up in our busyness, we look at someone else that seems lavished with time to sit and reflect or pray or read Scripture, and we say, “Must be nice. . . .”

All the while, we sabotage ourselves by choosing too many unnecessary distractions.

When I’ve heard this passage preached or taught, I’ve always felt indignant for Martha. Was she supposed to not feed these people? Was she supposed to let the pot boil over while she sat listening to Jesus? After all, there are many necessary things to do besides the most necessary thing: worship.

But I think this passage teaches us, among other things, the need to prepare to have time for the necessary things. Adjusting our schedule. Saying no to some things. Cutting back on some things. Doubling up on others. It’s an intentional act.

Perhaps we should ask, How can we simplify our lives to gain more time for the necessary things? What can we sacrifice? Maybe we can give up sleep by waking up earlier. Decorate less and buy fewer gifts at Christmas to focus on Christ’s birth. Whip up a smaller Sunday dinner to focus on rest and worship.

Jesus promises that when we sacrifice to spend time with Him, what we gain in His presence will not be taken away from us. It’s ours to keep, and we won’t regret it.

4. Worship doesn’t always look like sitting at Jesus’ feet.

The final time we hear about Martha is when Jesus has stopped back by their house six days before Passover. The verse simply says, “And Martha served” (John 12:2). She sets out the dates and bread and pours the wine, all while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. The exceptional part of this account is that Martha doesn’t say a word!

As the aroma of incense wafted into the kitchen area, I imagine Martha slowed down to breathe in the sweetness, and then she carried on.

Perhaps her service had become an act of worship rather than a mere distraction.

I always heard that Martha’s story is a warning against busyness, but maybe it’s more a reminder about attitude and motivation in whatever we’re doing.

We often make the mistake of thinking that the dull motions of our routine cannot be part of our worship. We wait around for the perfect worship ambiance instead of praying while we chop the veggies or praising while we fold the clothes or listening to Scripture while we’re driving to work or meditating on God’s promises while we’re putting on our makeup.

I think by the end of her story, Martha accepted that she wasn’t the type of person to break a box of perfume over Jesus’ feet—but she could make the best meal and serve it to the Master as an act of worship. Because sometimes worship looks like sitting still at Jesus’ feet—but sometimes it looks like what you’re doing right now.

As you’re reading Scripture, meditate on the characters, on Christ’s response to the characters, and how that encounter might have changed the character’s life beyond what you read in the account. Which biblical characters do you most identify with and what have they taught you?



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1. I loved the new perspective on Zacchaeus in Cole Smith’s Grace and Such blog post “Timely Obstacles.”

2. I found this article several months ago and appreciated the different view of Martha, “Martha, You Don’t Have to Be Mary.”