There always seems to be tension between being and doing. Being is about who I am on the inside. What are my values, what is my purpose, and what am I passionate about? Being is what you will find when you peel away the layers of life. Doing is about activity, the actions that I engage in also give life meaning. In addition, most of us are wired in certain ways that give a bias or bent toward contemplation or activity. In the midst of this debate, I would like to offer an alternative: there is not only room for both, they are both important.
There is a story in Luke 10:38-42, that illustrates being and doing, and it involves two sisters, Martha and Mary.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. Sitting at a rabbi’s feet was the sign of being a disciple, a learner a follower of the teacher. Mary was indicating that she desired that her life be lived under the teaching of Jesus. You might say Mary was a learner, a disciple. She nurtured the “being” side of life.
Martha was the hostess, and with it being her home she was responsible for the preparation, meal, and general hospitality rituals. Martha has now become synonymous with activity. Martha lodges a complaint: ‘Jesus don’t you care that I am doing all the work myself and Mary is doing nothing? Tell her to get up and start helping.’ There are two pre-conceived errors that are found in this story:
- That nurturing your soul is akin to doing nothing.
- That preparation and activity do not matter.
If your natural disposition is one of action, being quiet, learning, and feeding your soul seem like a waste of time, or at the least, not very productive. If you are more of a quiet and contemplative sort, you think ‘how can activity replace getting in touch with God?’
In Luke’s account, Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen what is better. Better, meaning essential. Jesus is telling Martha and all of us that being is essential. If we practice soul-care everything else will fall into place.
There have been times when I have been so busy, that I have moved toward activity without feeding my soul. This is a temptation for all of us, and we need to be on guard. Soul-care is important, but Jesus also told us to be servants. Though Mary chose that which is most important, it does not negate the need for work and activity.
A possible checklist:
- Do you have a quiet time?
- Do you read the Bible?
- Do you allow yourself to reflect on God’s grace and goodness?
- Do you express gratitude and appreciation to God and others?
- Jesus did command us to go into the world. Go is an action word.
- Jesus did send his disciples out to minister.
- Jesus did warn against burying one’s talents.
- We would not be Christians today, except by God’s grace and action!
As with much of life, balance is the key. It would seem the balance is toward action rather than sitting in the presence of the Lord. Today we should start by making sure we are spending time learning and growing and listening to the Lord. Work that does not flow from the heart of the Father will not lead to lasting fruit.