The admonition in the title of this post is a difficult one for me. It comes from that incident in Bethany when Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was “wasting time” instead of taking care of the needs of the people they had invited to their house. (Luke 10:42b)
I certainly understand Martha’s consternation better than I do Mary’s choice. I believe that prayer is important, but when facing a busy day or difficult task, I tend to jump right in and get to work instead of seeking God first. Stopping to pray during a crisis seldom, if ever, occurs to me. And frankly, if Mary had gone to high school with me, most of us would have called her a “brown-noser.” I hate to admit it now, but we really were that vulgar and that misinformed.
It’s partly a cultural thing for us Americans. We are do-ers, not pray-ers. Just show us the problem and get us excited about solving it. Pretty soon, we’ll have a committee organized to plan the work, another one to raise the money, and a third one to advertise for workers to complete the project. At the end, we’ll have a ribbon cutting ceremony and a luncheon to congratulate ourselves .
I didn’t realize how unusual we Americans are until a German student lived with us when my youngest child was in high school. She was amazed at all the civic meetings, projects, and activities that we engaged in that year. Looking back, I’m not at all sure that we activists accomplished a lot, but we did stay busy “improving” our community.
So it’s disconcerting to read that Jesus praised Mary. That forces me to rethink my attitude about my own priorities. I finally begin to really understand that prayer, especially prayer as a conversation with God,* is more powerful than mere actions, however well-intentioned they are. In fact, without prayer we often create more problems than we solve. The fact that we must act out our faith does not mean that we just go with the first bright idea that comes into our head.
When I read Saint John Paul The Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert, I finally found a real life example of someone who embodied both the pray-er and the do-er. His life is remarkable for all of the great things he accomplished and I had long admired him for the things he wrote, said and did. But not until I read about the hours he spent in intense prayer every single day, did I begin to understand how he knew what to do and how to go about it.
He got up at 4:30 or 5 every day, prayed until time to dress for Mass, prayed the liturgy of the Mass, then prayed again after Mass before meeting his guests and having breakfast.And that was just the beginning! He often stopped to pray in a nearby chapel even when it wreaked havoc on his schedule. He prayed the rosary while walking, whether alone or with a friend. The most astounding thing to me was that, according to his associates, he didn’t just say prayers, he was so intensely involved in prayer, he seemed to be in another universe.
Perhaps it was partly his background of living under totalitarian regimes that tried to cripple the people’s culture that helped him understand prayer better than I do. His lack of autonomy forced him to rely on God more often and more completely than Americans who think they are the masters of their own fate can begin to fathom.
Oh, Dear God, please teach me how to pray. Help me to quit being a slacker, but to persist until I know You better than I do now. Amen.
*Not just saying prayers or just asking God to help us out