The One Thing

Shiphrah Lakka   |   March 12, 2024 

It’s been eight months since we began homeschooling our two girls. It was a balancing act in the initial days—getting a new rhythm in our home, doing my best to give my kids a well-rounded education, and juggling other home and work commitments. On one of those days, I came across a very familiar story in the Bible of two women named Mary and Martha. Though I’ve read their story countless times, this time, I gleaned some much-needed wisdom and encouragement that I believe can strengthen us in our walks as busy women in today’s fast-paced world.

If you aren’t familiar with Mary and Martha - their story, though short, is a profoundly life-changing one found in the Gospel of Luke:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

I can picture Martha bustling about getting the house ready. Jesus was visiting; she wanted everything to be just right! I imagine the kitchen was spotless, the furniture was dusted, and the cushions fluffed. Don’t we all get a tad bit crazy when we expect guests? Or is it just me?! At the risk of embarrassing myself, I’ll tell you of the time when I was elbow-deep in cleaning the bedroom, and my then five-year-old came into the room and said, “Mama, why are you cleaning so much? Is someone coming to our house today?” There's nothing like a kid putting you in your place!!

Well, that was Martha for you. Busy. Cooking. Cleaning. Washing. Serving. All important things that needed to get done. She had opened her home to Jesus, and she was going to give him the best.

Then there was her sister, Mary. From the text, it seems like she was more relaxed and unflustered by all the activities keeping Martha busy. I’m sure she’d done her share of work when they had received word that Jesus was coming. But now that He was here, there was only one thing on her mind: spending time with Him. So she positioned herself at His feet and listened to what He said. It’s like when I tell a story to my little one. She sits close beside me, waiting in anticipation for every word, listening in rapt attention. I imagine Mary like that, watching Jesus intently, hanging on to His every word, treasuring His stories in her heart.

Needless to say, Martha, the Perfectionist, couldn’t allow herself to do that. There was too much to get done! She kept slogging until she’d had enough.

She blurted out to Jesus, “Lord, it isn’t fair that my sister just sits while I do all the work! Don’t you care about me?  Tell her to come help me.”

That takes me to another instance when similar words were spoken to Jesus. On that occasion, Jesus was not in a cozy home but a boat, being thrashed about by raging waves (Mark 4:35-41). He was fast asleep, and the disciples, some of them expert fishermen, after probably doing everything in their power to get themselves out of danger, woke Jesus and asked, “Do you not care about us…?”

Well, it seems like a silly question, but it’s one I have asked Him numerous times. Like Martha and the disciples, it is often when I’m buried neck-deep in the busyness around me, trying to do it all in my strength. I’m so distracted and caught up with a million tasks, running on empty, until I realise I can’t do it and call out to Him, “Don’t You care?!”

I think Jesus’ response in both situations, though different, is similar.

To Martha, He said, “Martha Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about.  Mary has chosen which is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

To the disciples' question, He responded, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus knows that we behave the way we do because we are worried, upset, or afraid. And we are all those things because we have been running on empty, without Him in the picture, very much like Martha.

Mary, on the other hand, paused. When Jesus came into her home, she paused from everything else and sat at His feet. No distractions.

In Jewish custom, “sitting at the feet” was what a disciple did. I remember three instances of Mary meeting Jesus; in all three, Mary places herself at the feet of Jesus. Luke 10 tells us, “She sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to what He said.” John 11 tells us, “She fell at His feet,” in John 12, we read that Mary anoints and wipes the feet of Jesus.

No wonder Jesus said—only One Thing is needed. Mary has chosen better, that which will not be taken away from her! Mary understood that however important the tasks around you, the best place is at His feet. I easily lose sight of that “one thing” amid scattered books, dirty dishes, and dusty floors. Those things can become overwhelming, and the first to be pushed off my ‘to-do’ list is often time with God.

I get so distracted (hello Martha!) in all the things I have to do that I end up doing it all with a lot of anxiety and worry rather than from a place of rest. I can get busy doing all the “right” things—taking part in church ministry, taking care of my family, and even writing these blog posts, yet, despite all of that, I still feel as if I have not spent any quality time with Jesus.

It’s like when I had friends over for dinner and spent the entire evening either in the kitchen or serving them. At the end of the night, I realised that my conversations had been fleeting and superficial at best. I hadn’t been able to spend any quality time with my friends. That’s how it can be on certain days with the Lord. I get in bed at night exhausted and realise that like Martha, my heart has been in the right place doing all the “right” things but I neglected to listen to His voice and spend time in His Word. In response to someone’s claim of being too busy to spend time with God, George Mueller once said that four hours of work after an hour of prayer would accomplish more than five hours without prayer. Now, isn’t that the truth?!

In the last few months, Jesus has been lovingly inviting me to reconsider the state of my heart, just as we see him saying with tender repetition, “Martha, Martha.” He has reminded me there is a way to serve without being distracted, worried, or overwhelmed. I can take time out to do the one “necessary” and “needed” thing from which all else flows.

The story of Mary and Martha is not about writing off Martha and idolising Mary. It is about prioritising the Word of God as we live our lives serving our Master. Both women were of excellent and noble character, and both were loved by Jesus (John 11:5). Jesus understood where Martha was coming from. All that she was doing was important. But it was not the most important thing.

If you notice, Jesus admonishes her for worrying, not for serving. She wasn’t wrong in her serving, just in her response. She lost sight of the reason for serving, and Jesus wanted her to see that her priorities were in the wrong order. And that’s what He has been teaching me, too. He desires for me to have a heart that hungers for Him.

I’ve often wondered what happened next. Did Martha leave the room in aggravation, continuing to do all the work herself? Did she have anything else to say to her sister or even to Jesus? Or did she accept Jesus’ invitation and take a seat beside Mary? I don’t know, but I hope she did!

Though we don’t know what Martha ultimately chose, we have the opportunity to make the right choice for ourselves. In a world of to-do lists and worries, Jesus tells us that He is the most important thing. Our time is best spent at His feet. We can either choose to busy ourselves with things that distract us from Jesus, or we can choose to be in His presence, finding grace and strength for each new day.

What will you choose today?


Photo by Marcel Eberle on Unsplash

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Shiphrah Lakka

Shiphrah loves all things chocolate, deep conversations, baking, and getting lost in a good book. She is passionate about encouraging families to learn God's word together. The lockdown has rekindled her love for writing and she documents all that the Lord is teaching her on her blog - She lives in Thane, India with her husband and two adorable daughters.

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3 comments on “The One Thing”

  1. Great reminder. As a potential follow up I’d recommend Kelly Kapic’s book “You’re Only Human”.

  2. Wonderful topic dear Shiphrah. Very thoughtful insight, especially for all the ladies...May God bless you abundantly.

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