United Society of Friends Women International (USFWI) women are known for their service. In fact, that is how I explain what USFWI is to a group of Friends unfamiliar with USFWI. “It’s a service organization. We strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.”
Many of us find ourselves caring for our families and working outside the home too. We see so much that needs to be done and there are not a lot of “extra” hours. There are the everyday chores of providing food and shelter for our families in this difficult economic time. It seems we have to squeeze in time to actively minister in our communities through USFW and our meetings/churches. In many meetings, USFW groups no longer meet. There is no time. I’m concerned about that.
Remember the story found in the Gospel of Luke about the two sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)? I’ve always identified with Martha. Martha was the host of the home, perhaps the eldest of the sisters. Hospitality was and is a very important gift to offer guests in the Middle East, as in other countries. Martha knew her task and she wasn’t happy that her sister was shirking her job. Martha wanted help in serving tea or a meal to Jesus and her other guests. And here was Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha complains to Jesus, but he tells her that Mary has made the better choice.
It is a choice, right, in our lives? There are several ways I see Martha. She was doing her job. One could also say that she saw a need and responded to it. We all do that, don’t we?
When I think of USFWI, I think of Martha. The good news for me is that it was Martha who was the first one to say these words found in John 11:27: “‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him, ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’” It wasn’t that Martha didn’t have a relationship with Jesus; she did. How else would she know that he was the Messiah? Jesus was, instead, telling her that there is a time to serve tea and a time to listen to him!
It is easy to imagine that if we were guests in the home, we could sit at the feet of Jesus without guilt. I could. But I believe it took a lot of courage for Mary to ignore the pull of hospitality that I’m sure she was trained to do. What I have come to live into is that there is a time and place to be Mary, listening to the words and Spirit of Jesus — being still. And there are times to be Martha. The challenge for us is to live in that balance between service and stillness. To be whole as Jesus wants us to be whole we need both — the inward and the outward life.
You’d think I’d remember this, right? But it’s so easy to tip the balance. I find myself spending too many hours ministering with and for Friends, forgetting to spend the quiet time I need to refresh and nourish my Spirit as well as to listen to Jesus for further discernment. Just as I need physical food, I need spiritual food. Each of us will have favorite ways of “sitting at the feet of Jesus” (Luke 10:39) and being still. Meeting for Worship is obvious. I can be still in the group, listening for the voice of Jesus directly or through another person’s ministry, the Scripture reading or the choir. The important point is that I am still internally. Being still, at least for me, does not always mean being quiet.
The reality of “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) can also happen when I am walking the labyrinth or walking in the woods, the mountains, the meadows or by the sea. Being still is quieting my mind and letting go of what I need to do, was going to do and must do. Being still is being present — right this moment. I’ve found it is worth it — being still. I am renewed, refocused and empowered. By being a Mary I am ready to go out into the world and be a Martha.
This article is an abbreviated lesson from the curriculum, Blueprints, published annually by the USFWI, and is reprinted with permission.
Ann Davidson is a member of Farmington Friends in New York Yearly Meeting. A recorded minister, she has served as a pastor in Western Yearly Meeting as well as presiding clerk of USFWI and clerk of the John Sarrin Scholarship Committee. Ann serves as the executive director of NYYM’s retreat and conference center, Powell House.