Only One Thing Is Needed: An Exercise in (Reluctant) Contemplation

Contemplative prayer. It’s something that impressive spiritual people do, but I’ve never really tried it before. I know there are benefits of making time to be contemplative  … but honestly, who has time?

10996312_10154886558387837_1004404244728061750_nI’m a Bible-study-on-the-treadmill, pray-while-driving, scroll-through-verses-on-my-Bible-app type of person. My life is busy, but I’ve found creative ways to fit prayer, scripture reading and other spiritual practices into it. For a while, I was pretty impressed with myself.

Then yesterday, I was hit with a realization. I do a pretty great job of finding ways to make spiritual practices fit into my life, but not the other way around. What if I shifted priorities? What if I tried to find ways to work my busy life around spiritual practices?

Yesterday, I tried an exercise in contemplative prayer and reflection. I read Luke 10:38-42 (the story of Mary and Martha).  Then I read it again, slowly. Then I sat in silence for a few minutes.

I hate silence. I need to be doing something. To be reading the next chapter, searching to find a parallel text in another Gospel, flipping to read a Psalm, Googling the cultural and historical context of the passage. But just sitting there in silence? That’s not really my style.

IIMG_4497t is, however, how one does contemplation. So I closed out my other iPhone apps, told my brain to chill, and sat in silence. I read each word–thought about what each word meant. Who are the characters in this story? What are their personalities like? What are they concerned with? How are they each interacting with Jesus?

In this story, I’m most like Martha. The one who always keeps busy. Who works hard. Who makes sure everything gets done. I’m not like Mary, just sitting at Jesus’ feet–listening. I don’t really have time for that.

The more I sat in silence, the more the last two verses of the story stood out.

“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.”

I thought about everything I’ve been stressed over in the last month. Plenty of things came to mind. But when it comes down to it, do all those really matter in the grand scheme of things?

And I am so caught up in everything else going on, I forget to focus on the one thing that actually matters. To sit at Jesus’ feet, and to listen. Because listening to him is what matters the most. The other things will always be there.

What if I spent less time worrying about each of them and more time focusing on God? There’s something so peaceful about contemplation. Twenty minutes in, I was struck by how calm I felt.

Twenty minutes seemed like a long time to just be still and listen. It felt weird and unfamiliar, but it  also brought is surprising clarity. Contemplation is not something I’ve ever really paid attention to. But I want to start giving it a try.


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