Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)
The habits we organize our life around tell us who we are and tell others around us what really captures our heart. We are always either reinforcing habits or forming new ones. As we are thick into the new decade, I am sure that many of us set out with good intentions, even perhaps setting a few resolutions. The problem with resolutions, though, is they rarely stick. Even more so, resolutions do not change us, but our habits do.
Habits are repeated practices. We look both ways before crossing the street, snack late at night, or stick to the same morning routine day after day. Habits over time become automatic. If habits become automatic, are there habits so deeply formed within us that we could be unaware of? I think so, and I think that was the case with Mary and Martha.
When Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, we see two very different responses. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha, preoccupied, scurried around. We get a glimpse into Mary and Martha’s hearts, and what we find is that our habits not only tell us what matter but reveal our character. What we oftentimes forget is that Christian character is produced by the Holy Spirit not by the mere moral discipline of trying to live by the law. To be sure, this does not mean we neglect a posture of responsibility to help those closest to us or neglect to help those least able to help themselves. Rather, the heart behind why we do what we do is what matters. In Martha’s life what appeared as unselfishness in her heart was in fact a root of selfishness concerned with “showing off” her serving. Anxiously scurrying around to make sure everyone was taken care of is what occupied Martha’s heart and defined her habits. Mary, on the other hand, made Jesus her chief and primary joy. When Jesus is our chief and primary joy, we desperately will want him to be reflected in all the habits of our life.
Really what we learn from the story of Mary and Martha in regards to our habits can be summarized into one sentence: we order our lives by what we love. And sometimes what we love most we have to be called out of– just as Martha was.
Jesus spoke right into Martha’s anxiety. Her busyness was not the good portion. The good portion was the best part of the meal. The good portion was being captivated by Jesus. Mary sat with him and was so enthralled by who he was, there was no room for her to be distracted by Martha’s anxious busyness. You see the habits we form show us what really captures our heart.
Martha wanted those dining at her home to know she had it all together. How often do you order your life around the mantra, “If I do ____________, then others will see me as _________” or, “If I don’t do ____________, then others will see me as ____________.” How we fill in these statements show at root what we love most.
Take a few moments to pause and think –
- What do I love most?
- What habits am I being formed by?
- What matters to me?
For me personally, there are two categories I have recently attempted to organize my habits around. My habits are either “meaning-making” or “meaning-less.”
Meaning-less habits seem to have a feeling of release attached with them, when in actuality this release is a form of control. Technology is the first thing to come to mind.
How many times has a five-minute break to scroll social media turned into thirty? It has controlled us all. Meaning-less habits over-promise and under-deliver every single time. These habits leave us disappointed, empty, with a heart full of comparison, and self-reliant.
On the other hand, meaning-making habits fuel our passion. In other words, meaning-making habits drive us towards God. Mary knew that sitting with Jesus was the single, greatest thing she could do. We must take note. This means the single, greatest habit we can form must be rooted and steeped in grace: prayer and fasting, Bible reading, and worshipful singing. Our lives then become a reservoir of love flowing into the lives of others.
What we need most is to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The good portion means having our lives oriented towards Jesus. It may not always look like sitting at the feet of Jesus so peacefully like Mary did, but it does mean we are always aiming to align and realign our love to him first.
How will you order your life? Remember we order our lives by what we love.
Start anywhere. But do start.