Sunday, April 17, 2016

Be Still and Know That I Am God: Being a Mary in a Martha World

I recently had the privilege of sharing at a women’s group in my home church. Below is what I shared. Please note, this is not a transcript. Rather it is my preparation notes, edited for clarity.

The Joy Gathering has been studying the theme of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, from author Joanna Waver. It comes from the story of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke. “Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” 

I did a search on Mary and Martha and found two more references to these sisters in the Gospel of John. “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.” John 11:1-2 (NKJV)

“And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him, but Mary was sitting in the house.” John 11:19-20 (NKJV)

But Mary was sitting in the house.

I’ve thought about those few simple words. “Mary was sitting in the house.” Was she sitting quietly? She was probably receiving guests because “many had joined the women around Martha and Mary to comfort them.” You see, their brother Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. He was dead, and in the Jewish tradition the family received guests in their home for seven days after the death of a family member. But just like in the Gospel of Luke, Mary was sitting.

In Joanna Weaver’s book she has a chapter entitled The Diagnosis, and she writes about anxiety. Her lessons on anxiety have to do with worry. Worrying about the safety of her husband and children. Worrying about cleaning the house. Worrying about getting things done in time for the next Church event. Do you worry like that? I think we all do at some level. Some more than others. At times my own worry is less than other times.

What about anxiety? You know anxiety; that heart racing, physical reaction that feels like you are completely out of control? Do you suppose Martha and Mary were anxious? I'm pretty sure they were. The scripture tells us about Martha going to Jesus and imploring him to come to her home because her brother Lazarus was sick. By the time Martha and Jesus connected, Lazarus was already dead. But Mary was sitting in the house.

I want to share a bit of my back story so you have an idea of where I’m going with all of this. It begins October 30, 2007. On that date I had an appointment with a surgeon to consult on a recent ultrasound. The doctor knew from the ultrasound that I had cancer but she needed to confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy. After our consultation she asked that on my way out I schedule a follow-up visit for the biopsy at the reception desk. As I stood in line she came up to me and asked if I could stay. Apparently, she’d had a cancellation.

In retrospect, I think she lied. I think she saw something on that film, or in my records, or on my face and knew she needed to help me that day. I’ll forgive her that lie. It was out of the goodness of her heart. I often wonder how often she reaches out to patients in just such a way. I do hope God blesses her and her practice. You see, I did not stay with her but chose to be treated in Boston. But I digress.

On that day. A Tuesday in October that I remember all too well, I found myself lying on an examining table with a medical assistant holding my hand, asking me questions about where I worked and the people we might both know. A nurse was setting up the tables and instruments, explaining to me what was going to happen. A radiologist was setting up the equipment so that the doctor could be guided by the images that were displayed. And while I knew I was not alone I did not feel connected to these women. I knew their purpose, and they were trying to help ease what they thought was my fear. My anxiety.

However, as I lay there aware that I was alone in a crowd I did not feel alone. I felt as if I were wrapped in a warm, soft blanket. I often describe it as a down comforter. And if you know me, that is one of my favorite things; being wrapped in warmth. As I lay there feeling protected and comforted these words from Psalm 46: 10 came to mind:

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

But is wasn’t just that this scripture verse was brought to mind, it was more like I “felt” the words. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hearing voices. No need for a clinical diagnosis here. However, I knew at that moment that everything was going to be alright. To this day I am convinced that my body was cancer free the day I had my surgery. I also know that God has used my cancer experience for other times in my life.

After my diagnosis and treatment I thought for sure that God had big plans for me when it came to sharing my testimony. I was sure that I was the miracle story that needed to be told. And I still believe that is true. It’s just that God had other plans. You see, God has said “yes” but the doors that were opened were not the doors I expected.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

Mary sat at Jesus’s feet. Mary sat at God’s feet and listened. You see, it was my time to be still. Be still and listen for God.

In 2011, four years after that initial diagnosis, a friend called me from California and said, “Let’s do a walk in memory of Jan.” Molly, Jan and I had attended the same law school. Jan had been a student leader and had recently died from cancer. The idea was to honor Jan’s memory by doing something constructive; something concrete. Something Jan would do for others and for the causes she loved. I said “yes” before I even thought about it. Molly and I researched the two national breast cancer walks and chose the Avon Walk. I believe my “yes” came from God. It was the right thing to do and I didn’t even hesitate. I often say that my heart said “yes” before my gate-keeper brain could think about it. All along, during the months of training and fundraising, my heart was filled with joy. But when my head thought about it I was filled with anxiety.

I had never done something like this. I am not an athlete. I was traveling alone to another city. This was so outside of my comfort zone I often heard the self-talk saying “what have I gotten myself into?” But my heart never wavered. That is how I knew it came from God. There is this saying “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.” I held onto that quote. When I questioned my abilities I remembered that saying and would say a quick prayer: “God you got me into this, so you better equip me.” As a result of that first fundraising walk, with an awesome team from my law school, I (we) have made it a goal to walk in each city that hosts the Avon Walk. So far I have walked in five of the seven cities. This year, in New York City, will be number six.

In 2012 a colleague’s mother was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer. At the time I simply said, “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” How many times have you said the same thing? Did you really mean it?

Little did I know that in November of 2013 I would say my second big “yes” to God; to my colleague and friend Tina, and to her mother Linda. I have written extensively about my journey with Linda in [this] blog. Linda passed away a little over a year ago but every moment; every early morning, every trip into Boston, every long day in the hospital with Linda was pure joy. I was never tired. I never dreaded the early morning. I never had to drive in a snow storm, and for Boston that’s pretty miraculous. I was never resentful of the days I gave up to be with her.

Another “yes,” but this time with no worries. No anxiety.

Getting back to anxiety I want to ask you, are you anxious? Philippians 4:6 reads: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” And Matthew 6:27 & 28: “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin.” (NKJV)

They neither toil nor spin. They are beyond worry. Sometimes anxiety feels like we’re spinning. Yet we are told not to worry. Not to spin.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I have a feeling of dread. I feel as if I can’t face the day. When that happens I go through a mental check list of my day. If it’s a work day I think about what is on my calendar. If it’s a Saturday I think about what’s on my “to do” list. Going through this exercise I realize that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. My job is one I am suitable for in terms of experience and education. It’s one I love and is a perfect fit. My weekly chores are certainly ones I can handle. I know how to do laundry and clean the kitchen. I enjoy baking. And making a grocery list is not difficult. Don’t get me wrong. This does not happen every day. Not even every week. But when it does happen I wonder why. So I ask myself: what am I afraid of? The last time this happened, I asked God that question. Why am I afraid?

I realized – or God brought to mind – that I sometimes feel as if I’m faking it. You know: the difference between being an adult and being grown up. As social media occasionally reminds me: I don’t want to adult today. I’ve also learned about something called impostor syndrome. That sense that I’m just faking it and one day, some day everyone is going to find out I’m a fraud. Maybe you’ve had that feeling. Wondering why you have been given the many blessings that you have. While thanking God for His grace you worry that the ever-elusive “they” will find out you don’t really know all that much and you just fell into your job. Or maybe that you don’t really deserve what you have. But am I an impostor? No. Not at all. God brought me to a place where He said: “Be still. Be still and know that I am God.”

God has brought me through a journey of experiences that I never could have imagined eight years ago. All because I was still and I waited. Mary, too, waited. Mary was sitting at home.

When I think about the passage in Luke where Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his lessons while her sister Martha rushed around I am struck by the analogy that is our current society. Isn’t the world like Martha? The world rushes around us. It makes a lot of noise. There are constant demands on our time and attention. We become distracted by things and tasks and chores; our “to do” list. We have to watch Dancing With the Stars so that tomorrow morning we can talk about who was dismissed with our co-workers. We spend say too much time on Facebook or other social media. I know I do.

I have a morning routine that includes reading email from four different email accounts. Four. Then of course I have to check my FitBit account to see how many steps my best friend got yesterday. And I cannot forget Instagram and Facebook or I might miss something that is brought up during coffee break. I wonder why it takes so much time to get ready for work in the morning. How can I possibly add an extra five minutes in my routine to even read a short, daily devotional? The thought of adding one more thing to my day can make me anxious. It can make me worry.

Yet God calls us to be still. Like Martha, He says to us “you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part.”

During the past eight years I have found myself waiting to hear from God about my mission. What was the purpose of cancer? What is the story I must share from chemotherapy and radiation? Rather than charge ahead and try to make it happen, I waited. As I mentioned, several times I thought a door had been opened to what I wanted; but not what God had in mind for me. He gently closed those doors. When that happened I thought “in God’s time.” He then presented me with opportunities that I never would have considered. Opportunities that I would not have chosen had I not gone through the experience of cancer. Mary had chosen that good part that cannot be taken from her. We are called to be like Mary. To stop. To listen. To sit at Jesus’s feet to listen and learn. To be still. Be still and know that He is God.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor. And on Twitter @relucsurvivor.