How I’m learning to sit at his feet

“You’re the hardest worker I know. I mean that.” My dad looked at me with admiration. “Yes, I know,” I nodded solemnly.

I was well aware of my “excellent” work ethic, and he wasn’t the first person to tell me that — not even close. Every person I had ever worked with or worked for had made a similar comment. I used to think of my work ethic as one of my strengths, but I was starting to resent it.

After hearing those words so frequently, I was beginning to think they would end up on my gravestone. I could see it now: “Here lies Amy, the hardest worker we’ve ever seen.”

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When it finally dawned on me how much my family — specifically my husband and children — had been robbed of because of how hard I worked, I was haunted by the idea that I would be remembered for my work ethic and not for being a loving mother, dedicated wife or servant of those in need.

Every time I read through the story of Our Lord’s visit to Martha and Mary’s house in the Gospel of Luke, I’m reminded of one simple truth: There’s a time to serve with our actions and a time to sit at Jesus’ feet.

How I’m learning to sit at his feet

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. While Martha keeps herself busy serving and taking care of things in their home, Mary sits at the feet of Our Lord, listening to his teachings:

“Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her’” (Lk 10:40-42).

There have been many reflections and perspectives shared on this passage, but every time I read this story, I see myself in Martha. I see myself in her desire to serve others above all else. Even when there are more important things to tend to, like sitting with Jesus and learning from his teachings.

While most of the reflections on the verses about Martha and Mary have shared that there is room for both types of women in the Church, the part that sticks out to me is when Jesus tells Martha she is “anxious and worried about many things.”

The drive of women like Martha in the Church are necessary and good. As faithful servants, we’re called to show love to those in need with our actions, not just our words. Yet, a fruitful life of servitude, whether we’re building our domestic Church or serving the poor, starts with a rich spiritual life.

There is nothing wrong with a desire to serve or work hard, but there’s also a time for sitting at the feet of Jesus. It’s necessary for us to be able to discern which one is needed at each moment in time.

As someone who relates to Martha, I’m learning how to sit at the feet of Jesus first and seek his kingdom before everything else, even when there’s work to be done and things to cross off my to-do list. Learning how to sit at his feet has been a journey, but there are three things I’ve done to help me get there.

Starting my day with prayer

Before I go to bed, I tend to do a brain dump of my to-do list for the next day so it doesn’t keep me up at night. Still, it’s easy to wake up and immediately start worrying about everything that needs to be done. When we start our day like this, in the words of St. Edith Stein: “We must then take the reins in hand and say, ‘Take it easy! Not any of this may touch me now. My first morning’s hour belongs to the Lord. I will tackle the day’s work which He charges me with, and He will give me the power to accomplish it.”

Instead of rushing to my list of tasks, I actively try to start my day with prayer. Whether it’s simply saying the morning offering or starting the day with a Rosary, giving Jesus our first fruits of the day keeps our mind focused on him.

Spending time in adoration

Going to adoration has been life-changing for me because there’s nothing to distract me. As the kind of person who will make any task — even one that’s supposed to be restful — into something productive, adoration is necessary because I get to simply sit with Jesus, literally.

Also, at adoration, it’s usually just me. In Mass, I spend most of my time trying to wrangle my toddler and keep him from running through the pews. But adoration gives me a chance to quiet my mind and spend uninterrupted time with Christ.

Setting boundaries for myself

You might be someone who works outside the home, or you might be a stay-at-home mom who struggles to focus on anything else when there’s laundry that needs folding. No matter what your current stage of life is, there’s always something that needs to be done.

I used to become overwhelmed with the burden of finishing everything on my list and ended most days feeling frustrated about all the things I didn’t have time for. This frustration led me to push myself past my limits and skip important things like prayer or spending quality time with my family.

Setting boundaries for my work or household tasks is necessary to keep me from overworking myself. Whether it’s clocking out at 5 p.m. so you can go home to your family or focusing on only a couple cleaning tasks at a time, boundaries are necessary to set aside the time we need to rest in the Lord.

Using our gifts for the good of others

When we see Martha again in the Gospel of John, she runs to Jesus with faith after her brother Lazarus has died. The gift that Martha had for servanthood was not a bad thing, and if it’s something you’re gifted with, it’s exactly that: a gift. But any gift can be misused when we don’t have our priorities straight.

What I’ve learned is that if I don’t actively seek Jesus first, I’ll neglect my spiritual life in favor of actions. The actions in themselves aren’t bad, but if I fail to acknowledge where my strength and help comes from, I can easily fall into the trap of self-reliance. The consequences of missing Mass, not praying or neglecting my family’s needs are far more serious than having to move a task to tomorrow’s to-do list.

When I sacrifice time with my children because I have dishes that need to be cleaned, or sacrifice time with my husband because I have a project to finish, or, worst of all, when I rush through prayers or skip adoration simply because I’m busy, I hear Jesus’ voice in my head:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

When I find myself anxious and worried about many things, I’m learning to stop what I’m doing and just sit at his feet.

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