by Rebecca Eve Schweitzer—
I learned two things about time: that God didn’t want us to waste time, and that God would work things out in God’s own time. The Christian tradition in which I grew up considered “wasting time” to be a sin. Verses of scripture were presented to me as reasons to work hard, work constantly and make the most of every minute. Ephesians 5 was used to remind me to live wisely and seize every opportunity to fulfill God’s will. I was also given Psalm 39:4-5, where David begs: “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.”
CAUGHT IN THE GOD “GIMME”
So using my time well was my responsibility—even if I never accomplished what I had planned. I learned that this was where “God’s timing” came in. God would bring me a job in God’s time, so I shouldn’t get discouraged even after five years of freelancing and odd jobs. God would give me a less temporary place to live in God’s time, so I need not worry about the ever-rising cost of housing. God would reward my hard work in God’s time, so I just need to keep my head down, keep working and push through my burnout and disappointment.
While I wholeheartedly believe that we as Christians are called to use our time wisely and that God, who sees the bigger picture, is always working things out, the way I’d been taught to expect a certain kind of reward led to a lot of resentment toward God. I was working so hard, waiting so patiently and so actively. Why wasn’t God bringing the parts of my life together?
I spent hours—in therapy, talks with friends, prayer, Bible study and conversations with religious leaders—trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I worked myself beyond any healthy capacity. I put 100 percent into my full-time jobs when I was blessed enough to have them, and I put 100 percent into ministry in my congregation, including serving seven years as the youth director. Why did I keep losing jobs to random downsizing and economic disruptions beyond my control? Why did every house I made an offer on go to someone else? Why did houses cost double what they did when I started looking? Why was rent increasing and my paycheck decreasing? What was I doing wrong? Wasn’t I honoring God with my time? Would “God’s time” turn out to be never?
All of this left me feeling guilty. Certainly there were people in far worse positions than me. I had a place to stay, even if it was temporary and cramped. I always found work before my bank account completely ran out. I was even able to save for a house despite these ups and downs. Still, I felt as if God wasn’t holding up God’s end of this perceived bargain. I had used my time wisely, so when would God’s timing come through?
When I agreed to write for Gather, I couldn’t wait to share how all my years of working and hoping and despairing had finally paid off. I had a house and a new job. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was furloughed briefly, but I survived and was brought back to work. I knew this was still going to be a good year.
I wrote that article, but it’s not the one you’re reading now. Two and one half weeks after returning from our furlough, several of my coworkers and I were told our positions had been eliminated. For the third time in my adult life, I found myself in what I thought was going to be a routine meeting only to hear my boss tell me my job was being cut. I felt the trauma of those previous layoffs. I felt foolish about my hopes and justified in my cynicism. I felt like crying and throwing my computer. Then I felt guilty. I needed to use my time wisely, right? Time to get to work finding more work.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read the story of sisters Mary and Martha. Martha opens her home to Jesus and the disciples. She works hard to prepare her home and food for her guests. Martha’s approach to service is that work needs to be done. Martha does that work. But Martha gets herself in trouble with her perspective on that work. She asks Jesus to make Mary help her. Jesus offers a different take: “…Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). I don’t think Jesus told Martha this to diminish the value of the hard work she’d put into hosting everyone. Much of that work needed doing. Without the Marthas of the world, ministries would cease to function. But Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to sit down and be like Mary, either.
Instead, he tells her that she need not focus so much on her worry. He gently reminds Martha not to compare herself to Mary. Mary isn’t wrong just because she’s in a different place than Martha at that moment. And Martha did the right thing by taking her worries to Jesus. Jesus’ words remind her and us that the work we must do—and the needs we must meet—are important, but temporary.
I have often found the story of Mary and Martha frustrating. Like Martha, I worry about getting things just right. I am apt to take Jesus’ admonishment personally. But Jesus reminds her—and me—of the right priorities. Jobs will come and go. Homes will come and go. Our sense of financial security will come and go. Even our ministries and congregations will come and go. We must work hard at these things, but we must also remember that they are temporary and that the heart of our work must be trusting God through the ups and downs.
Rebecca Eve Schweitzer is a freelance writer, editor and social media manager based in the metro-Detroit area.
This article is from the October 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
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Such a thoughtful and relatable article… no one has ever been able to successfully justify the story of Mary and Martha with any more of a lesson that of simple acceptance- there will always be people who will exploit the effort of others, but is that a Christian message in all honesty ?
And while its true that jobs, finances, circumstances come and go over a span of time- wouldn’t it add a different dimension to life and faith if we saw, felt and knew deep down that our prayers and searching actually mattered ?
Instead, you just wind up feeling so,,,,abandoned.