It’s a classic scenario. A middle-aged man wants to believe he’s still got it. His days of athletic glory have long since passed, but when he finds himself on the great field of battle against some sleek, muscular teenagers, manly pride takes over, and he’s all in, maybe a little too much in. That was me at a Young Life event a few Mondays ago. The flags were placed on opposite sides of the park, and I wore all black, including my very stretchy sweatpants to accommodate for a growing waist size. The rules were laid out, the ones we could remember anyway, and as we went to our separate sides, I yelled at Reece and Benson, two cross-country runners, “I’m coming after you!” They smiled, and I turned to Ellie, our head leader and asked, “Did that sound intimidating?”
“Yeah Erin,” she replied, laughing, “so scary.”
It was just a Monday at the park, but the engines of both teams were revving, and when Ellie got the green light from Abby, the war was on. The sun set behind the mountains in a beautiful orange and blue, and I hid among the lengthening shadows. Screams echoed from the field. Dark silhouettes of kids chased each other in the twilight. Then, one of those silhouettes broke through the first wave of people. It was Reece.
“Oh, you are mine!” I thought, making my way to another shadow. This was my moment. “Wait for it, wait for it,” I told myself. With each step, he was running right into my trap. He was my prey, and I was the cheetah. At the last moment, I sprang. Even in the dark, I could see his eyes get big. I felt like 17, right on his heels, reaching, clawing for him. He turned quickly, and I pushed off my right leg, sweeping my hand through the air, desperate to tag some stray part of his hoodie.
Then, a sudden pulse of pain. My leg was throbbing, and reality came rushing back. I was 48 again. For the rest of the night, I was limping, helplessly watching as people ran by.
Eventually, the two teams put aside their differences and sat together on a cement sidewalk. Leaders grabbed stray cell phones and sweatshirts, and as we walked, or limped toward the kids lit up by the orange glow of the streetlight, Ellie said to all of us. “Let’s go tell kids about Jesus!”
It was Sara’s turn to speak. “I’m going to read you a story,” she said. She flipped through some pages in her Bible and read the story of Mary and Martha. While Martha worked busily preparing a meal for guests, her sister Mary did nothing but sit at the feet of Jesus. Martha’s frustration festered like a sticker in a sock until it was too much.
Sara closed her Bible. “Let me pause here,” she said. “I can relate. Have any of you heard of gyoza?” People looked at each other quizzically. “It’s a Japanese delicacy, a lot like pot stickers.” She explained her family’s tradition of making gyoza and then made a connection with Martha. “When I see my sister sitting on the couch while I’m working,” she said, starting to shout, “it gets to me.” People laughed.
“But look at Jesus’ response.” She opened her Bible again: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:41-42). Sara paused, letting the words sink deep. Then, she looked at us and said, “We try to fill the gaps of all this isolation by doing more, but Jesus just wants us to hang with Him.”
I’ve read Jesus’ words to Martha before, but after Sara shared them under that orange streetlight, they’ve taken on new meaning. I love that Jesus repeated Martha’s name, like a father settling his daughter’s anxious heart. And what made Martha so anxious? Sure she was thinking about a meal, but Jesus saw through all that. It wasn’t just the meal. It was about doing. It was about performing instead of resting and being.
My attempts at performing that night by showing off my lightning speed didn’t go so well. Nobody walked away impressed, and that wasn’t the only moment that week of being much less than impressive.
Thursday morning, there was more “doing” to be done when I tried to teach with Google Slides. Nothing worked. No matter how hard I tried, the screen kept saying “Access Denied”, and those precious 90 minutes with my students were stolen away in a digital disaster.
Earlier that week, I tried to give a Young Life talk on the top of Pulpit Rock, but the wind picked up and suddenly loose sand was pelting our faces. Kids pulled their hoodies closed like Eskimos in an arctic blizzard. Forget cute jokes and dramatic pauses. They could barely hear me above the howling wind. Like Martha, it was all about the preparation, all about the “doing”, and the “doing” was a miserable failure.
Sitting here in my backyard as I type this, the yellow in the leaves is highlighted by another beautiful sunset. Everything is quiet, and those words of Jesus come through with crystal clarity. Only this time it’s my name He’s repeating. “Erin, Erin,” He says, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” He’s right. I am worried and upset about many things, and like Martha, I tend to think my performance will somehow calm the storm. The problem is my “doing”, no matter how impressive, isn’t what’s needed. Martha’s meal wasn’t what was “needed”. Neither is teaching a flawless class, giving an inspiring Young Life talk, or having young legs that can run like the wind. Even these blog posts are not what are ultimately needed. My “doing” will continue to let me down, but Jesus whispers, “Step off the stage and let it go.” He’s here, and He’s calling us, like Sara said, to “hang” with Him. He’s done all the doing that needs to be done, so we can let go of the doing, let go of being impressive, let go of the worry, and finally rest like Mary in being His.
Erin Ahnfeldt is a high school English teacher who is constantly challenged by the