Human-Beings or Human-Doings

Feb 25th 2010


I have to be honest, there is something appealing about that picture and that quote.  There are some days when I long to be unfinished doing nothing.  So I’ve been thinking lately about the supposed dicotomy between “being” and “doing.”  In the American Christian culture we say (I’ve said) things like:

  • It’s not about what you can do for God.  He just wants to be with you.
  • Are you more involved in activity for Jesus or adoration of Jesus?
  • Don’t be a Martha so busy serving Jesus that you miss the Mary moment of sitting with Jesus and listening.

If you are wondering why I chose the names Mary or Martha — it’s from a Jesus-story found in Luke 10.  It goes like this…

38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But 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!” 41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It’s easy to see what draws us into this story.  We are a culture infected with viral hurry-sickness.  We just can’t slow down.  The secret to marketing is make people think your product will give them more time.  Like Martha, worries and troubles, hurry and busyness is the schedule of our days.  We hurry because we are pessimistically hopeful that hurry will buy us more time.

It is easy to understand why we want to be human-beings instead of human-doings.  But I wonder if the attraction of sitting at the feet of Jesus isn’t that we want to listen to Jesus — we’re just too tired to serve?

Not long after moving to Chicago, Jon Ortberg called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction.  He described his current situation, the state of his heart, his family life, his job…and then asked, “What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy in my current circumstances?”    Long Pause.

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” he said at last.  Another long pause.   “Ok..ok…I’ve got that one written down,” John said, “that’s a good one, now what else is there?”  Another long pause.

“There is nothing else.”

Are those words for you today?  If so, let me take what might seem to you to be a 180 degree turn.  Here is the principle on my heart.  The secret to eliminating hurry is not selecting “being” over “doing.”  The secret is found in doing less (none) of the wrong things and more of the right things.  Our problem is not that we are doing too much.  Our problem is that we are doing things that don’t satisfy so we find ourselves trying to do more to satisfy what wasn’t satisfied when we did all that did the last time.  (Don’t read that sentence again — it doesn’t get less confusing.)

Doing nothing isn’t the answer — neither is doing everything.  You can’t just choose anything, but there is something, (maybe even a few somethings) that is the right thing.  Go do that.