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Jesus’ advice for multitaskers


Shutterstock | Estrada Anton

Dolors Massot - published on 12/24/19

Does your packed schedule leave room for God?

Are you one of those people who wish the day was 30 hours long? Is your schedule jam-packed with activities, work, and social events? From the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed, are you going at a fast and furious pace? That may be working well for now, but sometimes this hurricane of activity can be an obstacle to making room for God—and it can make us sad to not be closer to Him.

In everyday life, it can seem as if our text messages, our inescapable connection to the internet, and our work, family, and social relationships are all good things we enjoy, but they don’t leave room for us to think about God. Is that really the case, or can we live in a seriously Christian way in the midst of such activity?

Living at this breakneck speed, perhaps we only think of God when we go to bed and find ourselves alone with our thoughts—or when we get word that that someone we know has died, or when Christmas is approaching and someone comments on the radio about the “real reason for the season.”

A tweet from Jesus

For the multitaskers, those of us whose schedules are crammed with all kinds of activities, Jesus in the Gospel proposes a very brief piece of advice. It’s basically a tweet, long before Twitter existed, and it says:

“Only one thing is necessary.”

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were three siblings who were very close friends of Jesus. They trusted each other absolutely, and they loved each other very much. There is a story about them in Luke 10:38-42 that has special relevance for our busy modern world: Once when Jesus visited the sisters at their home, Martha (the very image of the busy Christian who’s always getting things done!), happy to have Jesus there, was working hard—preparing the best meal she could—because Jesus was going to eat with them. We can imagine Martha going to fetch water from the well, making a fire, preparing the vegetables, and doing similar tasks.

Mary, for her part, stayed listening to Jesus, who was speaking. We don’t know what the topic of conversation was, but the Gospel says that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet.” It was a gesture of closeness, and willingness to be attentive to what He was saying. On the one hand, this kind of attitude is passive, because it involves receiving the words of Jesus. On the other hand, it’s also active: The Gospel says that she was “listening”—not merely “hearing,” like someone pretending to pay attention to a guest only out of courtesy.

Here, in Martha and Mary, we can see the two ways that multitaskers need to be: Martha who works and Mary who prays.

Martha is convinced that her work is indispensable, and it is: Someone has to get the house ready and prepare food, of course. Surely, Jesus is aware of that! But Jesus wants to make it clear to us that while work—the thousands of daily tasks—is important, it’s not the most important thing. Remember the “tweet”: “Only one thing is necessary.”

Eventually, Martha complains … because in the end, someone who only works ends up exploding and complaining. “She came to Him and asked Him, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work on my own? Tell her to help me.” She’s fed up!

Zvica Kerkez - Shutterstock

Then Our Lord pronounces one of the most tender reproaches found in the Gospel. It begins with “Martha, Martha.” He calls her by name, twice, because he loves her. He knows Martha’s heart better than she does, and wants to speak to her soul.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things, and the truth is that only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best part.”

Mary’s part is contemplation.

Work and contemplation can go hand-in-hand

In our life, Jesus wants us to work with our eyes fixed on God, so our work can contribute to His plan of Redemption. That’s how we can live like both Martha and Mary, without conflicts.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to abandon our active pursuits in the spheres of work, family, sports, finances, social life, or politics. He asks us to live it all, but always remaining united to “the best part,” which is contemplation. Working in the presence of God means living coherently.

This unity between prayer and activity means offering our work to God. It means going to Mass, because we dedicate that time to thanking Him for the sacrament of the Eucharist; making time for daily prayer; looking at others as Jesus would look at them; praying on the train or in the car; loving my family as Jesus wants me to; and so on. It’s going about your ordinary life, but with a heart like Christ’s. 

There’s no conflict between working intensely and being a prayerful Christian, but we can’t go through life at breakneck speed without ever stopping to reflect. We need to be both Martha and Mary, always united to Jesus. We should remember his “tweet” of advice every time we see that action is making us too distracted and taking over our life: “Only one thing is necessary.”


Read more:
What do the Church Fathers say about Martha and Mary?

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