When the Pressure is on, what Matters?

The pressure is on


Businesses and churches share a common mantra today: “do more with less!” Our value to the organization, quakes and trembles in a trinity of demands: 1-relationships, 2-achievement, and 3-power.  Let me spell these out in a little more detail:

  1. Relationships:  Are you pleasing the right people?  Is there someone who is not pleased with you that could make your life and work difficult?  You are not a “people pleaser,” but you know there are some people you just have to please if you are going to get your work done and carry on with your plans and dreams.
  2. Achievement:  Are you reaching your goals?  Are you getting your assignments in and on time?  There are expectations for every job and in every family.  You are not “obsessive,” but you know that you have to produce if you are going to keep your job, receive any respect, and move ahead with your life.
  3. Power:  Are you keeping everything under control?  Do you have a handle on it?  Or are you a little frayed around the edges?  You are not a “control freak,” but you know that you have to keep it together, get the resources needed, stay on schedule, and demonstrate that you are in command if you are going to move ahead.

The pressure of these measures depends on your job, your family, and your situation.  However, for most people in most places, most of the time, these pressures are greater than they used to be.  There is nothing to indicate that the pressure is going to lesson.  We have to learn to live with it.  But there is more than just “living with it.”  We have to learn how to thrive in it, to be fully alive in Christ in the pressure cooker.  How?

I invite you to turn in your mind to an old Bible Story that illustrates the essential and spiritual task of resifting our priorities when we are under pressure.  The story is of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42).

The situation: Martha was working in the heat of the kitchen while Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus.  This is not a Bible text on personality types, the Type A-Martha and the Type B-Mary.  No, no, no!  It is best to think of the text as describing each of us as both Mary and Martha in or souls.  There is a part of you that needs to get the work done.  You are a responsible person.  Of course you get the work done.  However, another part of you loves to sit with Jesus.  Your life is committed to Him.  You desire time in His presence.  Let’s agree, we all are both Mary and Martha.

The conflict: Martha was distracted and Mary was focused.  In her distraction, Martha “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.” My goodness, Martha!  “Don’t you care…” is almost abusive language aimed at the Lord.  Jesus discerns the problem, her fear and frustration.  Indeed, Jesus must call her name twice to get her attention, “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, you are worried and upset about many things…” I understand Martha, the worries of pleasing the right people, reaching the right goals, and keeping it all together.

The priority: Jesus did not send sister Mary to the kitchen (as we are prone to do).  Jesus touched the heart of the issue, “…only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” The one thing needed is not to turn your back on responsibilities.  It is not to ignore the people who count on you, to neglect the duties assigned to you, or to wash your hands of a chaotic situation.  No.  Jesus does not promote an irresponsible life.  The truth is plain: we must take responsibility to center our lives in Christ first and always.

The lesson: Mary and Martha are two parts of a whole person, the need for our life in Christ and the expectations that we carry out our responsibilities.  In the pressure of the day and the kitchen, we are tempted to tell Mary to neglect the Lord and turn our full attention to the tasks at hand. However, the first responsibility is to abide in and remain in Christ, even as we carry out our daily duties.

Let’s make this practical.  C.S. Lewis draws an image that helps me with prioritizing my relationship with Christ.  He suggests that when a responsible person wakes in the morning, almost immediately, arrows of “oughts” fly toward your mind.  Our first duty is to hold the arrows at bay and, before we deal with the “oughts”, first connect with Christ.

Copyright 2011 © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.

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