Rest is good.
My last photo on Instagram is captioned as such. My husband and I had escaped to the beach for a few days (with our dog of course) after a relentlessly busy work season and were committed to just slowing down.
But even after I posted a picture of us on a windy beach, seemingly without a care in the world, I began to question: did I actually think rest was good? Because 99% of my lifestyle would argue no.
Recently, I re-read the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 (can you guess with whom I identify more?) and found a sticky note taped in my Bible. It was a poem I had written as a reflection on the story some years back and it read:
Lord, prune the Martha spirit away from my heart.
Busyness and distractions, set them all apart.
No matter if my house is not perfectly neat,
Help me to be content to just sit at your feet.
I don’t remember what age I was when I wrote that poem but based on the over-exaggerated cursive handwriting and the faded stationery with an “H” on it, I would guess I was in high school. And it occurred to me that I had always struggled with what I consider to be a Martha spirit. Ever since I was a kid, I remember feeling this compulsion, this obsession with staying productive and busy, for it was in the productiveness and busyness that I found my worth. Sitting still has never come naturally to me and quite honestly feels like a waste a lot of the time.
I think when we read the story of Mary and Martha (or at least when I read it), we see Martha as the antagonist. The one who was trying to take away from her sister’s experience with Jesus. The one who cared more about the appearance of her house than spending time with her Savior. And when those very same aspects of my personality come out, I often feel guilty. I feel like the villain. The one who has to be productive, to be busy, to accomplish. I empathize with Martha. I am a modern day Martha. Too often, I choose to be productive rather than still. Busy rather than centered. Jennie Allen in her book Nothing to Prove describes her struggle with this as well – that she lived her life for God but not always with God. I get it.
However, what I’m realizing about myself (as a serial overachiever and hard-core 3 personality – shout-out to the Enneagram) is that this desire to be busy is not in and of itself a bad thing. Martha’s desire to work and produce wasn’t bad. Her character was not flawed – her prioritization was. Her desire to work and be hospitable and provide the best experience for her guests and for Jesus was not bad. She was wired that way, created that way. In some ways, she was likely seeking to use her gifts. But the fact she could not lay down that part of her personality to sit with her Savior is a key indicator that productivity was an idol in her life – much like it is in mine.
The story of Mary and Martha isn’t about changing who you are, though I read it that way for a while. Jesus wasn’t telling Martha to be a Mary, just like he wasn’t telling Mary to be a Martha. Jesus doesn’t say that Mary was the better person – rather, she had chosen the better thing.
This story is a call to be willing to lay down even the strongest pulls of our personality to be content in Jesus’s presence. It’s a reminder that we should be willing to surrender the defining characteristics of our identity to instead be consumed by our identity as a child of God. That our calling is not just to do things for God but to be with God. Jesus doesn’t just love Martha for what she does for him – he loves her for who she is to him.
These past few days have been a reminder of that truth – that I don’t have to force a Mary personality onto my Martha drive. That’s not who I am. But rather, I must be intentional about reminding myself that there is more to me than just producing and achieving. I don’t necessarily want to prune the Martha spirit away from my heart, like my high-school self wrote, but rather refine it within my heart. I want to honor the way I was created while still making a conscious effort to readily sacrifice even the good, well-intentioned parts of my personality for that better thing.
Rest is good. Work is good. Jesus is better.