Dr. Richard Swenson, a medical doctor, has over the years seen a lot of patients suffering the consequences of having little or no margin in life. He wrote the following: “If overload is sabotaging our equilibrium, simplicity can help. If we find ourselves being detailed to death, simplicity can restore life. If we find ourselves overextended in our emotional, financial, and time commitments, simplicity is one of the best ways to reestablish margin.”
Consider a story found in the Gospel of Luke that reveals the unique personalities of two sisters. One named Martha, no doubt a type-A driven extrovert, and her sister Mary, who by contrast was a self-reflective introvert. Neither personality was defective. They each were created uniquely by God. But, when one sister allowed her natural tendencies to lead rather than Christ, we see a contrast between the choice to simplify and the choice toward complexity.
Simplifying Helps You See What Matters (Luke 10:38-39)
Jesus and His disciples came through Bethany where Mary and Martha lived. He was on His way to Jerusalem, where He would soon die on the cross. Jesus’ days were numbered. Martha “opened her home to Him.” (v. 38) So, Martha, the driven sister who is a “doer”, headed to the kitchen to create a multi-course meal for Jesus and the disciples. It is to be a big production.
Mary in contrast chose to sit near Jesus and was “listening to what He had to say.” The word “listening” means more than just hearing words; it refers to listening on a continual basis and deeply considering what Jesus was teaching. It implies following where the truth He reveals leads. Mary might have had a sense that this would be one of the last times she could spend time with Jesus.
When Mary chose to simplify, this allowed her to see and engage what really mattered. She did not miss the importance of the moment. There is a difference between circumstances coming up and making life complicated for a season and willfully living that way on a constant basis. We, more often than not, create complexity when we lack any real Christ-inspired margins in life. Mary chose to simplify and was able to see and embrace what really mattered in the moment.
Complexity Distracts You from What Matters (Luke 10:40-42)
Martha, in contrast, created complexity by going overboard with the meal. Jesus wanted a simple meal and conversation because His days with those He loved were coming to a close. Martha chose complex production. Her motive was sincere (to be a good hostess), but where her natural tendency led was not good. First, Luke notes that, “Martha was distracted” by all her big plans (v. 40a). Second, when Mary did not join her in this complexity and stress, Martha got angry. She first accused Jesus of not caring, “Lord don’t you care” and then commanded Him (the Son of God) to, “Tell her to help me!” (v. 40b)
Jesus, instead of ordering lightening to strike Martha, pointed out the real problem and the solution. The problem: “you are worried and upset about many things” (v. 41) The problem was not Mary, but the fact that Martha had chosen “many things” rather than a simple meal and spending time with Jesus. The solution: “but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better” (v.42). The word “better” means good — what is beneficial and fruitful. The complex meal was not better. Taking time to spend with Jesus was better, what really mattered. Martha missed what mattered because she got distracted by the “many things” that were not needed nor really valuable.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God;” Do you have enough margin in life that allows you to be still and know of God’s presence? If not, simplifying is a step in the right direction. Whether that is getting rid of stuff you do not need or trimming down your commitments to what really matters, simplifying will be life-giving. What is the first step you need to take in order to simplify?
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 only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”