Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.
When people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always had answers: veterinarian, poet, novelist, or freelance editor (my dream in ninth grade). My answers changed, but I always dreamed about a bright future. But most of the things that I dreamed about never happened.
When I was a teenager, I started to write novels. My first few attempts were mostly a whole lot of bad ideas—one was about magical shards of glass. While my ideas were not always very original, I was persistent. I wrote a complete novel while in high school, and I tried to rewrite it and get it published. I failed. So I wrote a new novel. I tried again and again. A person asked me once if I seriously thought I was going to publish a book, and I said with completely confidence that I was. I would keep trying until I got there.
In the middle of all the writing, I discovered a new favorite author. I thought she basically lived my dream life: she had gone to college, written and published books, won awards, had children—and she was a brilliant presenter and a good person. I met her a few times, and I seriously thought that I wanted a life just like hers. That was my dream.
I have always made intense goals about what I want to accomplish: publish books, go to graduate school, get married, have kids, own a home, and travel the world. At one point, I had a list of a hundred things I wanted to do in my life. Those goals were incredibly important to me.
But over the last few years, my focus has started to shift.
Mary and Martha
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
(Luke 10:38-42 KJV)
Martha had a really long list of everything she thought she needed to do that day. She had received a very important guest into her house, someone she loved and admired. And she wanted to serve him. She must have been incredibly frustrated that she was trying to get everything done and it wasn’t working how she wanted it to. She felt alone, and she wanted help to get things done. She may have wanted everything to be perfect. But she was looking for perfection in the wrong place.
I am Martha in this story. I like to have everything in order, and I love to get things done. In addition to my long-term plans, I am constantly making extensive to-do lists and I am worried about, well, everything. Life is a clutter of everything that competes for my attention and effort—and I am trying my best to get it all done.
But only one thing is needful? What about my long lists of things I need to do in life? What about my dreams and my goals? What about everything I need to do in a day? I have to exercise, get ready, get my kids ready, teach them how to read and play the piano, feed everyone healthy meals, be involved in worthwhile activities, finish my writing, read books, catch up with watching videos and reading blogs and social media feeds—and I also try to read my scriptures, say my prayers, serve others, and be kind. I tried to narrow my lists down, but they are still so long. There are lots of things that seem needful.
My family needs food, money, school, books, a home, activities, etc. We need so much. Right?
How could only one thing be needful?
I had read this story multiple times and skipped over that phrase, rationalizing that everything that I had in my life and in my head was completely necessary. I thought I needed a comfortable, successful life.
But I am like Martha. And what I really need is to figure out how to be like Mary.
I have read the story over and over again. I think about it often. Mary was simply listening to Jesus Christ. She probably had things she could be doing, a whole long list of them. But when it came down to it, she chose to listen to Jesus Christ.
Martha was doing so many good things, but they were taking her away from Jesus Christ. She prioritized everything that seemed urgent and necessary, but that meant she was focusing on the bread on the table and the jug of water to be served instead of hearing the words of living water and seeking the bread of life.
I’m a good person—and so was Martha. But sometimes the first thing I do when I wake up is look at the weather or check Facebook. Sometimes I turn on an inspirational message or try to listen to scripture, and then I become so distracted that I have no idea what I listened to. I think I am following Jesus Christ, even though I forget to spend any time thinking of his words. I think I am doing good things, even when I forget to follow a whole lot of simple commandments, like loving my neighbor and being completely honest.
I need a priority—not a long list of everything good, but something that can help me in every single aspect of my life. I need a priority that gives a clarity that will help me with each individual choice.
I want following Jesus Christ to be that priority. I want to follow him, not as afterthought, but in every moment of my life.
Note: This is an excerpt from my unpublished book, One Thing is Needful: Choosing an Abundance of Joy Over an Abundance of Things. If you would like to read more, please let me know.