Jesus is a guest in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits and listens to Jesus’ teaching while Martha is busy with domestic duties. Luke comments that she is “distracted with much serving”(Luke 10:40). At one point she grows so annoyed that she interrupts Jesus, telling him to make Mary help her. Jesus rebukes Martha: “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 10:41-42).
Distractions are major problem in our time. We struggle to focus attention on any one thing—and this has consequences in relationships, work productivity, and spiritual development.
The distracted mind struggles to view others rightly. Because Martha is distracted, she only notices Mary as not helping her. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me”(Luke 10:40). Martha is self-focused because she is overwhelmed with her tasks. An undistracted mind would appreciate that Mary is learning and growing from the master; a distracted mind is only frustrated.
The distracted mind often misunderstands and abuses spiritual things. Not only does Martha interrupt Jesus, she also tries to use him for her own purposes. “Tell her then to help me”(Luke 10:40). Jesus has become a pawn Martha uses to get her way. This is not his mission. He does not indulge her. When we have the focus to carefully consider spiritual things, we have more respect for them; the distracted mind can easily misapply. Spiritual things demand careful attention.
How do we minimize distractions?
We must move past viewing actions as only right and wrong. Martha is distracted with much serving. Serving is good! Yet it is not as good as learning from Jesus. We often justify our scattered lives and thoughts by arguing, “There’s nothing wrong with it!” Martha could say the same. Things can be innocent, yet not be helpful. Things can be innocent, yet we can still be enslaved by them. Things can be innocent, yet move us away from the Lord. Serving is good, but if it is keeping me from doing better things, it has become a problem.
We must distinguish between what is urgent and what is essential. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary”(Luke 10:41-42). Dishes need to be washed. Serving needs to be done. Often such things feel urgent. We have to pay the bills and get to work on time and keep our commitments. Yet when we strip away the urgency, only one thing is essential. Communing with God and strengthening our relationship with him is the priority. Everything else, good as it may be, may simply be a distraction from the essential.
We must do the necessary thing first. Very often priority is about timing—what we do first. We do important things first to ensure that they get done, no matter what else happens. There is discipline here because we feel that this is something that must happen. It is non-negotiable.
A simple application of Jesus’ teaching is to set aside a time in which we can learn from, pray to, and connect with God. I encourage people to do that early in the day because it both sets a tone for the day and ensures that it never gets crowded out of our schedules.
Distractions are an ever-present reality, yet Jesus wants us to find and pursue the one necessary thing.