Updated on August 26, 2016
How to Beat the Clock
That clock. All. Day. Long. He watches over my shoulder, tick-tocking his way into every fragmented thought. He determines what gets done and what gets piled in the corner. He decides if I eat lunch or simply down another cup of coffee and call it good. He declares with every beat of his tiny second hand if we are on time or late; if the deadline will be met or missed; if the day will slip quietly down with the sun or pull at the hem of the darkness with its demands. He gets my eyes more often than anything else throughout the day. That clock.
You too? More work than hours? More list than time? More running than breathing? There is so much written about how to be more productive, how to get more done in less time. And it is great advice. But I am terrible at executing those plans. I just keep thinking that if I stare at it long enough, one day I will be victorious and beat that clock.
I haven’t had much success with this strategy, though.
Why didn’t Jesus ever feel like this? Why are there no stories in the Bible about how Jesus slowed down time in order to accomplish all that his Father had sent him to do? Why doesn’t it ever talk about Jesus having a melt down because the meeting went too long or because he was going to have to feed all of the people again? And what does God actually think about my daily clock racing?
Well, I don’t think God is super impressed that I had coffee again for lunch and washed the same load of clothes three times while simultaneously answering emails and helping a child with math homework.
And every time I search the Bible for examples on how to deal with the busyness of life, I wind up in this same story. The one of Jesus and his friends Martha and Mary. Like maybe God thinks I need to learn something from it? The story is found in Luke 10:38-42. Here’s my synopsis of it:
Jesus goes to visit his friends Martha and Mary as he is traveling about in his ministry. The girls are sisters and Martha opens their house to Jesus and his disciples. During the course of his visit, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him talk while Martha slaves away in the kitchen preparing the meal. Martha complains to Jesus because her sister Mary is being slack. But Jesus seems to take Mary’s side. He tells Martha to chill out and let Mary be because she has chosen what is good.
Okay here’s the truth. I don’t actually like this story. (It’s okay to say that about a Bible story, right?) I’ve heard sermons on it, done a dozen bible studies and read a bunch of books where this story is used to teach us how to be more like Mary. And me, well, I’m left thinking, “That’s nice and all, but then who’s going to actually make dinner for all those hungry travelers?”
Go ahead and guess which character I relate to more in this story.
It seems that the point of this scripture is that Mary is good and Martha is bad. And I read it with my eyes still on that clock, wondering how many more tasks I can squeeze into the ticking minutes.
“Martha, Martha”, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42). Martha who only verses earlier we are told opened her house to the Lord. Martha who is trying to get the food ready, the table set and everyone fed.
I hear it like this: “Martha you are doing it all wrong.”
And the mirror that this verse holds up in front of me? It is one I would rather not look into.
This is wrong Lord? All this work? All these attempts to beat the clock, they are wrong?
I read the story again.
And my eyes rest on her name. “Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41).
Jesus says it twice, like maybe he was stilling her flustered soul and pulling her eyes off the clock and the boiling pots and onto him. “Martha, Martha, the Savior of the whole world is right here in your kitchen, look up and see me.”
Hold on a minute.
Only one thing is needed here. You know this Martha, Jesus seems to be saying, you let me in your house. I am here because you opened the door. Stop making it more complicated than it needs to be. Only one thing is truly needed here. Me. And I’m here. Look at me.
What if Jesus wasn’t condemning her as much as he was turning her?
What if he got it, the work still needs to be done, the hungry people still need to be fed, the schedule still has to be kept — but what if he was trying to keep her from missing him, her Savior, right there in the middle of work and the clock and people? Jesus.
So often I think that I will be okay if I can just catch up, get to the end of the pile, finish the job and move on to the next thing. I seek the approval of the clock, the to-do list, the world around me. And I forget. I forget the one thing.
Only one thing is needed and if we have opened the door and let Jesus in, then wherever we are standing and whatever we are doing — he is right there with us. Do we see him?
Hear him say it twice, your name.
Twice because he loves you enough to want your eyes when you slow to notice. Hear him quiet your complaints about the clock and the work and the others who aren’t helping, not because you are doing it wrong, but because he desperately wants you to get it.
Hear him say it, “I am here because you let me in. Can you see me in the work?”
Martha saw the work and Mary saw Jesus. Martha did it wrong and Mary did it right. Quit being so busy and stop and see Jesus. That’s how the story is usually told.
But I don’t think so. I don’t think that Jesus is really “anti-making dinner for hungry people”. You see, they both saw Jesus. In the quiet of sitting at his feet and in the busyness of trying to get it all done. Jesus. Can we train our eyes to see him? Can we come to trust that when we do, we will truly have the good portion that is better than beating all the clocks?
Oh, but, yeah, I still think Mary should’ve helped with supper …
Lord, may we see you today. In our quiet and in our work, may we take our eyes off the clock, off the people demanding our attention, off the lists, the stacks and the boiling pots and may we truly see our “good portion” you, right here in the middle of it all. And may we breathe deep and be grateful. Amen!