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What's Necessary?

Chaplain (Maj.) Mary Scheer

Chaplain (Maj.) Mary Scheer

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- This time of year many faith traditions celebrate holy days, and most families celebrate some or all of the holidays.

There's a story in my faith tradition that always comes to my mind this time of year. The story is about a dinner party two sisters were called on to throw, for very important company, with very short notice.

If you could have chosen anyone to come to your house for New Year's Day dinner who would you have chosen? Would you choose the President? the Mayor? Your Congressman? The TAG? Or would you choose someone from your faith tradition?
Our story took place sometime in the first century, and was written according to the Christian tradition by a man named Luke.

One day the two sisters named Mary and Martha who lived in the town of Bethany, near Jerusalem, heard a knock on their door, it was Jesus and twelve of his friends coming for dinner. Along with their brother that made 15 people to cook for! 15 people in those days was a lot. Not too many people had that much food on hand, and with no refrigeration or freezers to store food, they would have had to borrow from others in the community.

"While Mary, the younger of the sisters sat at Jesus feet listening to what he taught, her sister Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her." (Lk10: 38-42 NLT)

Preparations had to be made because of cultural rules about hospitality. Hospitality was equated with righteousness. A guest was treated with respect and honor, and was provided with food for his animals, water for his fee, rest and a sumptuous feast. He enjoyed protection even if he were an enemy, for three days after eating with the host. She felt the weight of the company in her living room. Her reputation was at steak because everyone in the small tight knit community would hear about it. There was a lot of work to be done, and her sister violated tradition and cultural norms at the time by sitting with and learning with the men. There was a lot of pressure. At first glance it feels like a clash between the lazy and the laborers. But this is not a contrast between listening and doing, it's between being anxious and not.

Martha was "worried and anxious about many things," but she was encouraged to put the things that worried her into perspective and pursue the "better things."

Who knows what the New Year will bring. Should it bring challenges that raise our stress level, there are three things that will help us successfully manage things that can lead to worry and anxiety.
  • First, food for the soul. Martha was paying attention to food that is temporary while Mary focused on that which lasts. Feeding our souls will help equip us for all that lies ahead.
  • Second, balance. This story brings a balance between duty and devotion. It's not saying that we should do nothing, but that we should be able to say no to things that eat away our time and prevent us from the rest and play that lowers stress and renews our strength. We should say no to things that blur our focus and distract us from the better things.
  • The last "better thing" that I can address here is taking the time to linger. Lingering is an amazing art. Think of the rushed life so many of us live. So often we are dwelling in the past, thinking of the future and rushing through our days. Lingering with the people in our lives adds time, focus and attention that builds better relationships. Allowing for time to let things settle and grow in us, lingering leads to learning and change. Lingering with things that lead to laughter, like good friends, a good movie or book, increases peace and joy that helps dissolve fears and anxieties and increase resiliency.
As the new year begins, there may be things, attitudes or habits that we could replace with better things. As it went in our story, Martha has chosen what is better, what about you?