We learn it from a young age: hard work is to be rewarded. It starts innocently enough, teaching us good work ethic and setting us up for success later in life, but somewhere along the way it morphs into a dangerous message.
We start to hear it everywhere:
We are only worthy when we are productive.
We are only loved when we are the best.
It becomes a cycle of striving, of always keeping up, of never resting. We can’t stop and we definitely can’t fail. We even have a Bible verse to back it up: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). I mean, who wouldn’t want to give God their all?
So it becomes our addiction—this insatiable desire to do more and be better. Eventually, we find ourselves actually believing that our worth is directly tied to our level of productivity. Have you been there? I have in fact, even in the last 48 hours. I used to wonder what difference it made that I found my worth in my work. After all, I was highly productive and efficient. How could that be a bad thing? So I continued barrelling down the path of self-destruction because I cared more about crossing things off my To Do List than listening to the still, small Voice I knew was calling me to a new way of living. I kept shouting Yes! to too many things and stretched myself way too thin. I was irresponsible with my own time and with the time of others’.
Finally, after years of striving to earn love and acceptance, I reached a breaking point and learned the truth: rooting my worth in my level of productivity was killing my relationship with God and utterly dehydrating my soul.
And, suddenly, everything screeched to a halt. I left a job I was great at, but which fed my addiction to extreme perfectionism, and I found myself nannying, which has nothing to do with productivity and everything to do with simply being present. I took a break from college. I stepped down from a volunteer leadership role and stopped saying yes to new things.
God grounded me, for all intents and purposes, until I learned the lesson He had been trying to teach me for years and we began in the Gospel of Luke. The story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha is short, only four verses long at the end of Luke 10, but it was this story that changed my whole idea of what God wants from me.
The Gospel writer tells us that Jesus visited a home of two women who could not be more different from one another. Martha busied herself cleaning the house, preparing the meal, doing all the things she thought were most important. (Hello, I am Martha.) Mary, on the other hand, was rapt by Jesus and his teachings, so she simply sat at his feet, listening and learning all she could from her time with him. Martha, being the (presumably) Type A woman she was, askedJesus: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40b)
Now, I’m not sure I would have spoken to Jesus that way given that he is, you know, God, but that’s between him and Martha. I have, however, felt the way she probably did at this point exasperated, frustrated, and short on time. She wanted everything to be perfect, she wanted to get it all right so that Jesus would be pleased with her (sound familiar?), yet she was missing the forest for the trees.
As it turns out, all Jesus wanted from Martha was herself. Somehow, Mary instinctively knew this. Oh, how I wish I were more inherently like Mary! And perhaps some of you are. But here I am, a true Martha, struggling to learn this hard and holy lesson from her ancient story. I still don’t have all the answers. I still find myself ignoring God to meet deadlines. I still feel my self-worth waning as I fail again. I still sometimes have to ground myself to remember what I have learned. But I have learned.
And this is what I know for sure: God wants us, you and me not our checklist of tasks completed.