Deeper into Real Life: The Gift of Slowing Down

by Rev. Doug Gray

Our culture is obsessed with speed. We have speed dialing and speed dating, [slide with zombie] and just plain speed. [Man with speed face.] We laugh at it, and seek it. We all have the same amount of time, but we begin to think the one who does the most gets the most out of their lives. It gets to be something of a game for us. [Speed Limit and Radar game.] But we just don’t know how to stop, and we are so addicted to doing that we are not sure we really want to. [Speed up a bit more. You got this!] One social scientist said, “Technology has been a rapid heartbeat, compressing housework, travel, entertainment, squeezing more and more into the allotted span. Nobody expected that it would create the feeling that life moves too fast.”[1] How can Martha and Mary, the sisters in our passage today, help us go deeper into real life and find the gift of slowing down?

It’s worth admitting that we are often like Martha in two ways. First, we get so distracted with busyness that we lose our way. Mike Yaconelli, the epic youth minister writes,

A cow is nibbling on a tuft of grass in the middle of a field, moving from one tuft to the next, and before you know it she ends up at some grass next the fence. Noticing a nice clump of green on the other side of the fence, the cow stumbles through an old tear in the fence and finds himself outside on the road. “Cows don’t intend to get lost,” the farmer explained, “they just nibble their way to lostness!”[2]

It can work like that for us. Bit by bit, we get busier and busier, filling our lives with just one more detail and just one detail more, until we find God’s voice getting fainter and fainter. Our lives get more and more serious and less and less fun, until we can hardly taste the wonderful life God has given us. Distracted by busyness, we lose our way and our hope.

Second, we are like Martha because the good we have is never enough. Whose home is Jesus’ staying in? It’s Martha’s (not Mary’s!). Martha is the hard-working one, who enjoys having people in her home. She seems to enjoy serving people. Luke writes that she has “many preparations”, or servings or ministries. This seems to be what she is good at and what she enjoys. So why isn’t it enough? Jesus was really into serving others—he even said, “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”—so we can imagine that Jesus might think that serving was good in itself. Why couldn’t Martha be content with the good that she has? Why does she envy her sister, so much that she wants to take away the good her sister is experiencing:  listening to Jesus? And so we go through the lives we have chosen for ourselves, refusing to appreciate the good we have, always wondering why we can’t have what our neighbor does.

Oh yes, we can be real Marthas can’t we? So busy we forget to listen for God’s voice. So burdened by all the things we think we have to do that we cannot be free to answer God’s call. So filled with wishing we were doing something else or owned something else or were something else, that we never fully experience with gratitude what we have been. Bit by bit, we surrender our aliveness, love and hope. How do we get out of this mess?

So we turn to Mary and learn two things from her. First, Mary teaches us that listening to God is the most important thing we will ever do. Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” If God is always at the bottom of our priority list or kept in a Sunday morning box, then our lives will get emptier and emptier as God’s voice gets fainter and fainter. Centering our lives in the Presence of Christ helps us find the Way Jesus wants for us to travel. Hearing with wonder Jesus’ promises of the love can transform everything else we do.

Second, that we simply have to enjoy the wonders of today and even of this moment. We rush through our lives like people starving to death. We wolf down our lives so fast we cannot taste them, and yet they never seem to satisfy. Did we really see the amazing color of the sky and water this morning? Did we really taste our breakfast this morning? Have we really listened to the songs we are singing, taken them into our hearts, allowed our souls to be moved by them? Oh, my friends! We simply have to rejoice in the beauty of the day. It’s a good day when we get to sing praise to God as we watch the sunset blaze into a symphony of color, or the crocuses bloom with ardent life. Every moment is to be tasted and enjoyed, used to its fullest until every ounce of possibility is wrung from it.

We long for a deeper life, the abundant life Jesus promises. We long to set aside the madness of our need for speed and let Christ be the center of our lives. This Lent is a great opportunity to accept the gift of slowing down and try a different way for a few weeks. Doesn’t the Martha in you get tired of dragging around all your worries and jealousies? Doesn’t the Mary in you long to sit at Jesus’ feet and drink in the soul-refreshing joy and hope of Jesus? Doesn’t the Martha in you want to serve your Lord with soul-filing passion? Doesn’t the Mary in you want to sit at Jesus feet and learn all He has to teach? Truly, we need some of Martha and Mary in our lives. Jesus gets that. Mary and Martha need each other to be whole and full of life. This week may you serve with gladness, thankful for what you have. May you find time to sit and listen to the Lord and His Word. May you rejoice in the wonders God has placed around you. We need Martha so we can eat supper and Mary so we can feast on Jesus in our hearts. We need Martha to have a life and Mary to make it real.


[1]Theodore Zeldin, quoted in Faster, James Gleick.

[2]Mike Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder:  The Adventure of Childlike Faith, pp. 13–14