Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Good Portion

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me."  But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." -Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. -James 1:5-8 (ESV)

I bide my time far too much in worrying.

I admitted this fairly plainly a few weeks ago.  The gist there was that persistence in prayer is a discipline which demonstrates faith that God will act.  The source of it is a healthy knowledge of God's Providence.  This doctrine of Providence has two elements.  The first is sovereignty.  God must be able to provide or else imploring Him to do so is a waste of time.  Not only must He be able, He must be active to perform it.  Thus God cannot sit lackadaisically in Heaven, capable of ordaining and doing yet not.  The second is His benevolence.  We must believe that God is enthroned in Heaven contending on our behalf for our good.  If He is uninterested or malevolent, He oughtn't be sought out for help.  It wouldn't do any good.

So is that simple?  Is the cure to worry simply not to think?  That seems to be the opinion of our age.  The popular cures to anxiety involve distraction and mediation.  The modern democrat busies himself with material cares, earning money to survive.  When he makes enough money to survive, he turns his attention to entertainment and luxury.  Once he has no need of worry about life's immediate needs--once he has attained the bases of Maslow's hierarchy--he can go after the glitzy pleasures his wealth affords.  He can start saving for the next house, the next smart phone, the next car, the boat and the lake house.  And when he achieves these things, he can tarry away enjoying these luxuries.  Of course, once habituated to a productive work life he hasn't the inclination to truly enjoy these things.  But they do provide welcome relaxation from the bitter stress of his busy-ness.  And the noisier his life gets the more he drowns the gnawing moans of his soul.  He is too busy to confront the void inside, and when exhaustion threatens to amplify the dirge he has his pleasures to distract him.

The most severe cases necessitate the pills.  He who can't busy or distract himself enough may find the grip of anxiety paralyzing.  For him there are shrinks and meds aplenty to assuage the sore emptiness of his existence.  (Please note that I am not here making a commentary on legitimate chemical imbalances nor am I saying that anxiety and depression are not real psychosomatic issues.  I just don't think they are as prevalent as we seem to think them.)  There's always a Zoloft for fears and worries to return you to a healthy (read: productive), functioning life.  For what is life if not produce and function?

Yet the anxious and unproductive seem wrapped and rapt in their own musings, though typically to their detriment.  And while most modern democrats see the solution as filling the mind with sundry thoughts to drown it out (or the oddly inverse-yet-identical Buddhist/New Age solution of emptying the mind of all thought through meditation), Jesus and James seem to suggest another way: fill the mind with something else.

The vessel of the mind is easily filled with worry.  Meditation is the Christian answer, but does anyone really know what mediation is?  What is it to meditate on the Law of the Lord?  I had a mentor long ago give me the answer.

Meditation and worry are the same process.  They just have different foci.

Martha was much troubled by the work of hospitality.  Her motive wasn't bad, yet her distraction kept her from what Jesus calls "the good portion".  What is the one necessary thing?  In this story, that was to sit and listen to the Lord's teaching.  The cares and concerns of this life will be taken care of in due time, but in that moment she needed most of all to sit and listen to Jesus.  She needed to stop filling her mind with the troubles of today and start filling it with the words of Jesus.

James tells us that if we need wisdom or understanding, we need only to ask.  Yet we must not ask double-mindedly.  He who asks without faith in the Answerer is like a wave tossed to and fro; he cannot ground himself because he has no confidence that his prayer will do any good.  The confidence that our prayers will be answered is the confidence to persist, to move, even to produce without fear that things beyond our control--or even things within our control--will destroy us.  We rejoice because clarity will come if only we ask, expectant of an answer granted not from more obsession over the object of our concern but from more obsession with the Sovereign Lord who grants it.  Christian meditation and prayer are unlike Buddhist and New Age practice because the Christian must fill his mind, not empty it.

So here I sit in my twenty-first-century, quarter-life crisis doing all I can to fixate upon the Lord in between schooling, jobs, careers, vocations, relationships, longings, doubts, and troubles.  May I learn to pray as one single-minded on the confident assurance that my heart's cries are heard and my troubled mind shall one day fall silent.  The key is to fill the mind with the things of God, the comfort of His character, the truth of His omnipotence, the warmth of His benevolent love which contends for me, not against me.  May the unbelief of distraction find cessation in the overwhelming awe of His presence to save, to heal, and to shelter.  God be here and swiftly so with all wisdom, amen.