Perhaps saying yes isn’t a struggle for you. In fact, you love to say yes. Maybe you’ve said yes so often that now you feel as if you are in the circus. Remember the clown at the circus that juggled three balls and then kept adding to the number? We waited in anticipation to see if the clown could keep all those balls rotating in the air. Saying yes to many things can lead to that frantic feeling of trying to keep all the balls in the air, paying close attention that nothing gets dropped. The world record for most balls juggled is eleven. My coordination limits me to two.
When we juggle too many yeses, a calendar with no margin can be the result. To say yes to one more thing is challenging. This becomes a problem when the next invitation to say yes could be the better yes—an opportunity that will give us more fulfillment, teach us more about God, and make a greater impact in our lives. Being open to the better yes is difficult when we don’t have space to consider it.
Why are we so busy? What drives us to fill our schedules to the brim? Perhaps we will miss out on a better choice? I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus was teaching in town, and Martha wanted to open her home to Jesus and his disciples. It was an honor to have Jesus come to their home. Martha leveraged her hospitality gifts for this visit with Jesus and his disciples. I can imagine her pulling together food from the fridge, getting beverages on the table, cleaning the house, and if she was anything like me, she might be kicking herself that she hadn’t made it to the market earlier that week to get those favorite snacks. Martha wanted to make sure all was ready for these notable guests. She was very busy getting important tasks done.
And where was her sister, Mary? She wasn’t in the kitchen helping Martha. Instead, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Mary wanted to be with Jesus, to learn from him, to be in his presence. Martha was frustrated with her sister’s choice and let Jesus know about it. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, . . . you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:40-42 NIV).
This familiar text tends to make me feel guilty if I don’t drop everything to have a spiritual moment with Jesus. And Martha manages to get a bad rap in this story. She was too busy with cooking and cleaning; therefore she didn’t say yes to spend time with Jesus. Mary is usually highlighted as the one who had her priorities straight and let the to-do list go to say yes to Jesus. And for good reason, as Jesus does highlight this choice as better, but it wasn’t that easy for Martha . . . or Mary.
I desire to be like Mary and can relate to Martha. Sometimes I stay busy in the kitchen saying yes to many good things because that’s what I know, and people expect it of me. I can please a lot of people and get much accomplished. This can make me feel significant and loved all at the same time. These are not bad emotions, but when I derive more significance and love from people than from God, I know I’m headed down a path that will not satisfy. Not to mention that when I’m busy with all the good yeses, I don’t have time to pay attention to my own soul or talk to God about any of the difficult emotions that may be beneath the surface of my heart. It’s no wonder I can have a hard time finding space for a better yes.
I wonder what would have happened if Martha had given in to a better yes? Perhaps it would have been an opportunity for Martha to realize how hungry her soul was for Jesus’ words. Maybe she would have felt freedom to let go of expectations and rest in the presence of Christ. In the big scheme of things, the hours Martha utilized were not large blocks of time but were meaningful. Not all better yeses are large time commitments. It could look like having time to say yes to walk with a neighbor you’ve been praying for. Maybe slowing down your pace means being available to sit in a doctor’s office with a friend as she receives the test results she’s been worried about. Perhaps margin in your calendar will allow you to pray for and be more present with colleagues in your office. If we’ve said yes to too many things, we often can’t say yes to these small opportunities with a big impact.
If you resonate with saying too many yeses for one reason or another, I commend this practice to you before you give your next yes: Sleep on it. Or at least wait a minute or two before you agree. Ask the Lord in a time of prayer what his thoughts are on the matter. Will you have margin to be present with others and with God if you say yes? And reflect on your motivation for saying yes. Are you looking to him or external factors for fulfillment in this yes?
Martha’s yes to serving Jesus and the disciples was a good yes, but Jesus wanted her to consider a better yes that day. If she could have let go of some of those good other tasks, Jesus knew that Martha’s heart would have benefited from time spent with him. She would have known how loved she was by the Lord and that she, too, had a place in the living room with Jesus.