Entries with tag worry .

Balancing Our Inner Mary and Martha

The older I get, the more I struggle with the inner dialogue of “I have to do something about ____” and “but I’m just one person…what can I do, really?” As a Millennial (which Microsoft Word says is synonymous with utopian, idealistic, and visionary), I’m annoyingly optimistic. But there’s only so much one person can handle on their own, there’s only so much of the world’s pain, anxieties, and fears that one person (aside from Christ) can try to solve.

 

I try to balance the desire to “do something” about the world’s problems – to offer a voice, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to serve – while also allowing myself to sit at the feet of Christ and listen. Ora et labora, pray and work, has been something Christians have struggled to balance for centuries.

 

But who likes listening when the world is shouting at you to speak, to act, to do something, anything, to fix the world’s problems that just seem to be getting worse?

 

So when I read the Gospel passage from the Feast of the Dormition (the same as for the apodosis or leavetaking of the feast) from Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28, I could certainly identify with both Mary and Martha. Mary sat listening to Christ while Martha took care of offering hospitality to her guests. Martha was upset at Mary’s inaction, and Jesus tells Martha that she is anxious and worried about many things but one thing (being with Jesus) was needful.

 

What we need is to find some balance. Here are three things to keep in mind.

 

1. Acknowledge anxieties and worries

 

Most of my own confusion with answering the “what can I do?” question comes from the seemingly oppressive list of problems that need solving. In our heads, all mixed up and confused, these problems really seem unsolvable. What we need is to pause and acknowledge the various things in our lives that we’re anxious and worried about.

 

Are we struggling with grief and sadness over the loss of a loved one? Maybe we’re battling all the lies we tell ourselves.

 

Then there’s the general political tone in our country today. Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, life after the election is certainly different. There’s a lot of uncertainty for many people who struggle to find hope and give thanks in such a divisive political climate. We don’t want to get stuck in our worries, but it’s easier to deal with them if we have cleaned up the clutter of our thoughts.

 

After we are aware of what problems we’re personally struggling with, then we can turn them over to Christ.

 

2. The One Thing that’s needful

 

In the Gospel reading about Mary and Martha, Mary was perfectly content with sitting at the feet of Christ and listening to Him. I’m guessing Martha would have wanted to sit and listen to Jesus too, she just had SO much to do! Sound familiar? We’d love to be at church, we’d love to read the Bible, we’d love to spend some alone time with God…but…look at this LIST!

 

We need to commit ourselves to Christ and see that He is the one thing that’s needful.

 

But what if we just feel burnt out? What if that urge to sit at the feet of Christ, that urge to pray and grow in our faith is just not as strong as it once was?

 

I am so very good at distracting myself from prayer. I can fill my free time with so many things until it comes down to growing in my faith – and then suddenly there’s just not enough time. Time seems to stop as I stare blankly at my to do list or at the daily news in shock, but what I really need is to break out of this inaction and turn to Christ.

 

You see, behind all of the world’s problems and the problems I might face, I am only one person. But One Person is also the solution to all of the world’s brokenness – Jesus Christ – and He can and will be present with us if we have the faith to let Him work. From a position of trust in Him, He will direct us to the right course of action.

 

3. The role of action

 

Once we’re centered and letting Christ direct us, we’ll have the better vantage point to see what we can do. But there are different types of action.

 

If I’m inclined towards selfishness and laziness, doing something physical might be exactly what I need to do. After all, service changed my life and might change yours too. When we serve someone in need, we serve Christ Himself. And, that’s what Martha was doing wasn’t it?

 

They key to the issue might be what the Church connects to the story of Mary and Martha from the next chapter of Luke. Jesus calls blessed those who “hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28). Some of the Gospel requires action on our part, and this is our keeping of the word of God. But we have to hear it first.

 

If I’m inclined to worry and trying to do everything and anticipate all the possible problems that might come next, it will surely take work just to…stop. Action for me would be to slow down and listen to Christ. We have an opportunity for action – that work of the people of God – to serve together in prayer. Like Elder Sophrony of Essex reminds us, "The early church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy."

 

Whether our action is by serving those in need, or speaking out when we need to, or stopping ourselves for a moment to listen to what Christ is trying to tell us, it takes work on our part.

 

*****

 

We cannot ignore evil any more than we can ignore the anxieties in our own lives. So we have to slow down for a moment and acknowledge the fears and worries we have. We need to sit at the feet of Christ in prayer and study and listen to what He might have us do. And then we take action in the best way we can – following the lead of Martha who showed hospitality to Christ as best she could.

 

Are you a Mary or a Martha? If you’re feeling more anxious these days, how have you strengthened your personal prayer life? How is God calling you to action in your corner of the world?

 

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Recently, I heard about a man (let’s call him John) who went to his 25th high school reunion. John never felt very comfortable with himself during high school. He always felt too skinny, and admired the other guys in his class who were athletic and popular. But at this reunion, one of those athletic popular guys told John how he always admired how confident John was in high school.  

You see, the way John saw things didn’t match with how others did. John and his high school classmates looked back on their four years of high school very differently; all because they perceived them differently.

Experience is shaped by perception. We see ourselves one way, while others see us differently. We worry about how others perceive us and whether they will accept us.

Sometimes we even worry if we’re good enough for God.

It’s easy to get stuck inside our heads, lost in all of these questions, and forget that each person is just as bound to their perception as we are to ours. More often than not, this perception is shaped by insecurities and fears, and even traumas.  

But what if we were able to let go of this bad thinking? What if we could get out of our own heads and see things, not as we fear they are, but as they really are?

So let’s briefly look at three areas of perception and try to look past the lies we tell ourselves to discover the truths that God is trying to tell us.

1. How we see ourselves

On a daily (or even momentary) basis, it’s easy to fluctuate between feeling confident and feeling unsure of ourselves. We are constantly sizing ourselves up against all of the goals and expectations that we have, whether self-defined or given to us by our family or society.

If we’re feeling insecure, we can find imperfections in just about anything: our looks, our voice, or our smarts. We can doubt our abilities in school, sports, and work. And then on the other extreme, there’s pride. We can see ourselves as the best at whatever it is, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

But somewhere between insecurity and pride is a balanced self-worth. It’s the ability to look honestly at ourselves without being destructively critical; to see when we have done well and where we could use improvement. If we’re struggling with something, we need to be honest with ourselves and ask God to be with us and guide us. If we’re battling insecurities, we can ask God to give us clarity and to guide us to see the truth of our situation.

It’s a balance that we can only strike through regular self-reflection, which includes the sacrament of confession and the guidance of a spiritual father. It’s a balance between acknowledging our sins and shortcomings while putting our hope in Christ and the salvation He offers.

2. How we see each other

 It would be great if we only looked inward. But unfortunately, most of us are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Judging others and worrying about how others see us are related problems we can face.

If I’m preoccupied with what other people are doing, I neglect looking at myself. It’s like during Lent, when it’s all too easy to look at what others are eating instead of looking at our own plate. Or maybe we worry people will judge us if we don’t fast properly, and so Lent becomes a time to worry about whether we look pious enough instead of a chance to turn more and more towards Christ. And since we catch ourselves judging others, we worry how other people are judging us.

But worrying about these things does no one any good. How others perceive us doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are, and our relationship to Christ. And we can never know what’s really going on in another person’s heart, and the secret struggles they bear. All we can do is work on our own struggles, and try to honestly see ourselves, which takes us back to the first point.  

3. How Christ sees us

But all of this worrying over ourselves, judging others and worrying how they see us…is just noise.

It’s noise that keeps us from hearing the truth that, regardless of whether we live up to expectations, or whether we are as good or better than anyone else: the God who created us, who fills us with life each and every moment, that God loves us unconditionally just as we are.

We come to God as we are, and through our knowing Him, He transforms us into the person we can be.

The person He made us to be.

We are His masterpiece. We are His unique design, imperfect though we may be.

Jesus Christ sees our imperfections, but not according to our specifications. He sees the difference between who we were and who we are today.  He sees the difference between who we are today and the person we could be if only we trust in Him.

You see, we were made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and through a relationship with Jesus Christ we can become more and more like Him. We are living icons of Christ. Each Christian, regardless of our past mistakes and struggles, is an adopted child of God (Galatians 4:4-5). Through our faith in Christ, we have a connection to God the Father.  

Our worth is no longer dependent on what anyone else thinks; our worth is revealed in our relationship with Him.

 

It can be tough trying to walk the line between humility and self-pity, between a healthy sense of worth and pride.  It can be tempting to want to worry about how other people are living their lives, to wonder why we aren’t like them or why they aren’t like us. This temptation is so disruptive because it keeps us from living our lives as they actually are; it keeps us bound to some other person’s story instead of living the story that God wills for us, personally.

When instead we allow ourselves to live as Christ sees us, when we see ourselves as icons of Christ made for a specific purpose, we can begin to live according to His purpose for us. Whether we are the best or the worst at something isn’t as important as doing whatever we do to the best of our ability and to the glory of God.

We can ask the Lord to help us keep our eyes on Him. We can ask Him each day to keep us from being overly preoccupied with other people and what they might think of us, or what we think of them.

Then, free from the burden of the world’s expectations and our judgements, we can come to Christ ready to follow His will for us today.

 

Sam is the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

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