June was a rough month for me. I knew it was going to be busy and challenging and difficult going in. I had trips set for Seattle, San Diego and Anaheim. And then a Discovery Center in Dallas. Discovery Centers are highly stressful, multi-day events, where candidates and staff are on edge. It’s my responsibility to lead, direct and keep things on schedule. They are demanding and nerve-wracking thirteen-hour workdays. That event was followed by big family baby shower hosted at our house. Not a problem, I didn’t have to go—except I did. It turns out guys were invited and I was recruited to help put n the party for 120+ invitees. Then we had another Discovery Center, this one in Austria. “You get to go to Austria?” We didn’t want to go to Austria. We’re not the travel around Europe types. I was already frazzled thinking about leading a Discovery Center in a country where German is the primary language—I don’t speak German. Then we would fly back home for a family reunion. The reunion spot was Trickee. Truckee, isn’t that the place where truckers stop to pee? That’s why its called, Truck-ee.
I received very little empathy heading into June. “Please pray for me,” I’d ask, and I’d get a, “You are so lucky you get to go to Europe.” To be honest, everything worked out a little bit better than I had expected. My June from Purgatory wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. But on the last day of June, at our vacation, we had the entire family together when I started to talk about my month and then I just broke down. In front of my wife, my kids and grandkids I had a bit of a mini-meltdown.
“What’s wrong with Dad?” my kids asked. “What’s wrong with Papa?” my grandkids asked. “What’s wrong with me,” I asked.
I had obviously allowed too many non-essential elements to sneak into my life and it led to a meltdown.
Has that ever happened to you? Ever get a bit too stressed, strained worried or anxious?
How can we stay true to the vital few tasks needed and avoid the trivial many tasks that end up with us broken down?
How can we keep from mini- or major-meltdowns? With all of the things we need to do, places we need to go, people we need to see and activities we need to perpetuate, how can we keep from breaking down?
The good news is there is a story from the life and teaching of Jesus that speaks to this issue of focusing on the essential:
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 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!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’"--Luke 10:38-42 (NIV)
Martha had a bit of a meltdown. She had allowed some seemingly trivial things edge out the vital ones.
What did she miss? There is one element that Martha missed.
When I mentioned that I was going to speak on Mary and Martha at our church a while back, one person on the teaching team said, “Oh, I know your take on that story—you don’t like Martha!’ That isn’t true, I am Martha! I’m an activator, I tend to be task-oriented. Every responsible person seems to be a Martha. My June was a picture of me melting down in the kitchen.
And Martha’s primary problem is my primary problem.
In his classic book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursiut of Less” Greg McKeown pinpoints what Marth and me missed:
“Essentialists spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking. But their exploration is not an end in itself. The purpose of the exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.”
I didn’t take time to explore.
Martha got angry because she didn’t explore her options very thoroughly.
Martha was simply doing what Martha always did. Jesus is coming over, so you tidy up the house, make him feel comfortable, cook a great meal and make sure all the preparations are completed.
I messed up my June because I didn’t explore and evaluate the options.
“The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.” —Bob Hawke
Most of us get sucked into so much that we never pause to discern the options or the trade-offs
Too often I just do what I always do. I can slip into always doing what my parents did, or my grandparents did, without bothering to explore the options.
Some simple examples: My dad always did what my dad did. He would say, “If you are offered a promotion, always take it.” And he did. My mom wasn’t a complainer, but she did make it very clear she was not enamored with her so-called loving husband dragging her around to live in such horrible places as Wendell, Idaho; Burley, Idaho; Idaho Falls, and Berkeley, California. Why? Because my Dad never even stopped to explore the option of not always doing what he always did.
My dad would say, “If you go to a ballgame you stay til the bitter end.” Really? Do you need to add bitterness to your life? There is a time to channel your inner Dodger fan and leave early to beat the traffic, it is not a sin, it might just be a good use of time.
Too many of us are like Martha, we always do what we always do, and we rarely even pause to consider anything different.
Are you In-N-Out Burger fans? One of the secrets to In-N-Out’s success is their simple menu. They’ve served the same few items since day one in 1948 in Baldwin Park and it has led to great success. But most of you know another secret to In-N-Out’s genius is their not-so-secret secret menu. Experienced patrons know that you aren’t actually relegated to stick to the main menu. You can get a 3x3 or 4x4 or 10x10 if you want to. You can get your burger animal style, or protein style or Flying Dutchman style (two patties, two slices of cheese and nothing else). You can get a grilled cheese or a Neapolitan shake. My favorite thing not on the menu—fries with cheese and spread.
Here is why we have meltdowns: We go through life stuck to the main menu, and never bother to explore the secret one.
Look at Martha.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.—Luke 10:40 (NIV)
The literal translation is, “But Martha was distracted with much serving.”—Luke 10:40 (ESV)
This is the only time in the entire Bible that the word, “distracted” is used. Distracted means you are not doing what you should be doing.
Martha was obsessed with all the preparations that had to be made. That’s me—I’ve got to do it all. Really?
Did Martha really need to make her special three-bean casserole with lentils because Jesus was there? Did she really have to serve Jesus dinner?
Explore for a moment. Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, he knew how to miss a meal!
Did Martha really need to make sure the house was perfectly spotless for Jesus? Don’t you think Jesus knew she stuffed a grip of junk into the hall closet?
Did Martha really have to do it all herself?
She could have asked for help, right?
Hey Mar, how about emptying the dishwasher?
Sher could have asked her brother, Lazarus. “Hey, Laz, how’s about you get your resurrected rear end off of the recliner and roast us up a couple lamb chops?” Oh, this was before Lazarus was raised? “Hey, Laz, bro, seriously, barbecue up a leg of lamb for the rabbi and us girls, believe me Jesus will owe you one and that will come in real handy, say, four days after your funeral.
She could have asked a neighbor for help. “Kramer, can you be a doll and pick up a pizza?” “Wilson, can you throw some sandwiches over the fence?” “Penny, can you bring over a dish?”
Martha could have truly asked Jesus for help.
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!”—Luke 10:40 (NIV)
Martha didn’t actualy ask Jesus for help, instead she demanded that he do things her way.
What if she had simply asked him, “Jesus, I know you’re good at stretching some fish and loaves, can you work your magic on lunch?”
But she demanded.
That raises a question, do I pray and ask God for help or do I just demand he get on board with my agenda?
Taking this exploration point further, what if Martha took a moment to figure out what was really going on with her. Sure, she was caught up in the details of the serving the house guests, but why was she so upset at Mary? Isn’t that the underlying issue? Mary’s laid-back personality seems to have been bothering Martha for a while. Had she ever forgiven her sister?
What if Martha stepped back and thought, “Cooking and cleaning are always needed, but how often do I get the Lord to download his incredible words of wisdom in such an intimate setting?
One of the primary reasons why we get so agitated, distracted and frustrated is we don’t explore the options.
So, how can we explore them?
In the “Essentialism” book the author suggests these ways to explore: Escape, Look, Play, Sleep, Select.
I recommend reading his book and his suggestions.
But I’d like to suggest three other ways to explore:
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
The first counselor I ever sat with told me that my decisions would get much better if I added, time, distance and prayer to them. He was talking about perspective.
Getting a little perspective on things, taking a step back, changing my surroundings to think can lead to much better living.
We went to Europe, and I remember sitting in a meeting in Austria, sitting back, getting some perspective and thinking—and this is embarrassing to admit—we didn’t really need to make this trip now. There could easily have been better timing.
I’m not sure I took the time to think that through beforehand.
Who is helping you explore?
On Tuesday I got a call from the C.O.O. of one the organizations I contract with. “The state of California has changed the way they deal with contract labor,” he said. “So, we have to change the way we pay you.” Then he gave me too options: terrible or horrible; ridiculous or ludicrous; dumb or dumber.
This was disappointing, and irritating. I told him I needed to talk to my financial guys. So, I texted one financial coach, and he replied, “That’s awful.” A half-hour later he sent me another text, “Do you know of a third option?” “What’s the third option?” I asked. Then he called me, “What if we do this…?” I called a second financial coach. He answered, “Yep, that’s the work-around the new state stuff, do this and that and it’s all good…”
Sometimes we just need the right people in our lives to help us explore the the third option, the work-around, the secret menu.
Let’s ask God. What does he want? Does he want us to do the dishes or listen to Jesus’ teaching?
And again, when we pray, are we asking for God’s help or demanding our own way?
This story of the two sisters is an amazing picture of the gospel. Martha is a caricature of most of us—trying to do the right thing, working hard, stressing ourselves out some, trying to impress Jesus with our busyness and our goodness plus maybe even acting a bit judgmental about how others aren’t serving as much or as good as us.
Then there is Mary. She’s not trying to work her way into heaven, she is just sitting at Jesus’ feet, enjoying time with him, trying to follow.
God gives us a choice. We can hear a, “Martha, Martha…” or we can choose what is better.
Here is my challenge:
Become an explorer:
Explore one thing you are doing simply because you’ve always done it
Explore on place you can go to get a better perspective on things
Explore one person you need to go to more to keep you grounded
Explore whether your prayers are demands or sincere calls for help
Let’s become more intentional in life, maybe we can find the third option, the work-around, the third option.