Listening, true listening, places us in a receptive posture. Listening requires humility as I turn my attention from myself to another. Sometimes, I am not very good at listening. When she was younger, on occasion, my daughter would whisper to me, "Can I have 'listening Mama'?" That was my cue that she had something important and close to her heart that she wanted to share. She was asking for my undivided attention.
Do you ever wonder if God's heart longs for our undivided attention? Does God desire me to slow down, focus, and listen deeply to His heart? It is so easy for necessary tasks, the "to do" list, distractions, important things and unimportant things, even ministry things to draw my attention away from listening to the One who is Life, Jesus.
Curt Thompson, psychiatrist and author, highlights a significant question in his book, Anatomy of the Soul. "How well am I paying attention to what I am paying attention to?"(p. 53). In the sermon last week our pastor drew our attention to Curt’s quote and the significance of paying attention in our journey with God. Ultimately what I pay attention to will reveal where I align my heart.
One of the biblical passages that illustrates this truth is the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. Martha is clearly a friend of Jesus, a strong woman, and a capable host. She is actively serving. Don’t miss the beauty of Martha despite how she gets frustrated in this account.
What is Martha paying attention to as her angst increases when she welcomes Jesus and the disciples into her home? In Martha’s encounter with Jesus her attention strays from her focus on Jesus to her emotions regarding the tasks at hand, her own needs that are not being met, her evaluation of the circumstances, the perceived shortcomings of those around her (Jesus and Mary), and the motivations for those failures.
Martha’s perception is shaped by her attention to externals and her own interpretation of all that is taking place... and her heart strays. Her misaligned heart experiences stress, and she discharges the stress by accusation and judgement (whereas one personality may explode another may implode). “Lord, don’t you care!” And then she powers up—she instructs Jesus on how he should remedy her discomfort. “Tell her to help me.”
Jesus responds kindly but directly. He exposes Martha’s worry and anxiety. Her attention is divided, and she is distracted by many things. Jesus reframed Martha’s analysis: in this story Mary had chosen the one thing that was needed and it would not be taken away from her. Mary was attending to Jesus—she was seated at His feet listening. Attention precedes action. Today, what am I paying attention to?
Is it possible that Martha was jealous of Mary? Underneath her anger did her heart long to sit at Jesus’ feet too? We are not told, and maybe even Martha did not know what was beneath her frustration. What if Martha had discarded her dinner plans and, instead, put crackers and cheese out for her guests so she could sit with Mary and listen to her Lord. So often, when we do not pay attention to our hearts and to the Spirit of God, we lack both self-awareness and God-awareness. Then we react to events, to people, to God, and our own emotions without wisdom or clarity… often thinking we are quite right and justified. The Spirit of God desires to teach us… will we be willing to pay attention?
So, I imagine Abba God leaning down and whispering, "Can I have a listening daughter (son)?" In later accounts we see Martha steady and serving—her learning continued and her intimacy with Jesus deepened. As I listen and respond to the love of God I will have the discernment and the strength for the next step, the next choice, and the next word... and my heart aligns with Him.