IT’S glamorous to have no time.
As semester one kicks into gear and the to-do list lengthens by the day, I find myself back in a wrestling match with the ghost of hyper-productive 16-year-old Kate.
That Kate, heading into a chaotically busy final year of high school, was posed a question by a wise redhead: “What is the most important thing you’ll do this year?”
My mentor, Vivian, ginger curls springing out from behind her ears, listened patiently to my attempts to figure out the top priority of a long list of leadership, academic and musical commitments.
At each suggestion, Vivian shook her head.
After my sixth guess proved as ineffective as the first five, I sighed.
“I don’t know, Viv, what is the most important thing I’ll do this year?”
“Pray,” she laughed, as if it was obvious to the whole world.
I refrained from raising an eyebrow.
Oh, the ideal was nice – I wafted through visions of afternoons reading scripture in a cherry tree and skipping through fields holding Jesus’ hand.
But pragmatism had the upper hand here. I simply had no time.
Despite my protests, Vivian persisted.
“When you prioritise God, the rest falls into place. Spend the first hour of your day with Jesus and he’ll multiply the other hours – you’ll feel like you have more time, energy and love for everything else.”
Only half-convinced, I trialled Viv’s suggestion for a few days, and almost immediately had a head-on collision with Martha of Bethany. (Luke 10:38-42)
“Kate, don’t you care how much work there is to do?” my Martha-like conscience nagged, “There isn’t any time to sit at the Lord’s feet.”
Guilt twisted my ankle, dragging me out of my interior chapel back into task-busyness, anxiety and relentless accomplishment.
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing.”
That year began the wrestling match between a Kate who was driven, efficient and fretful, and a Kate who craved the peace found at Jesus’ feet.
I would rush from class to meeting to rehearsal to tutorial – and then collapse gratefully in front of the Blessed Sacrament to take in a long, deep breath.
Although four years have passed since that episode, I still find myself in a daily wrestling match between the Martha and Mary within.
Starting this university semester while juggling parish youth ministry, an internship, volunteering and an archipelago of peripheral commitments, I’m daily tempted to abandon Vivian’s advice, and instead define myself by the busyness.
Having no time means you’re achieving something, both in the eyes of the world and for the Kingdom of God.
As a young adult scrambling for a sense of identity, people’s judgments seem slightly less terrifying when I can display an overflowing timetable to justify my oxygen intake.
But eventually I burn out.
I discover my human limitations. I find myself dissatisfied with the anxious and demanding person I am becoming.
The world tells us that living like Martha is the only way.
That’s what “real life” looks like: relentless achievement, exhausted busyness and the scramble to construct a perfect identity.
But God has different priorities. He reminds us that the one firm foundation for identity “which will not be taken away” is His love for us.
He invites us – especially in this season of Lent – to remember “there is need of only one thing”.
The Resurrection is our reminder that His love accomplishes all things. Our striving attempts to get it right all the time, and win the “busiest Christian of the year” award, cannot achieve anything more than what God’s love has already done for us.
When, consumed by an unending to-do list, I finally collapse into a chapel and sit at God’s feet, Jesus gently tells me, “You are worried and distracted by many things. But only one is needful. Receive my love, and be transformed by it. That alone will transform the world.”
A day without prayer leaves the same dry taste in my mouth as a miserable night’s sleep.
When I try to live my days without God, I wind up in the same restless, agitated busyness as Martha of Bethany, panicking that I’ll never get it all done, never measure up in the world’s eyes.
But when I take the time to have a Mary heart in a Martha world – sitting with Scripture and a cup of tea early in the morning; going to daily Mass to find peace in His presence – I find myself both empowered to achieve the to-do list, and also convinced that nothing I can do could make Him love me more.
What is the most important thing you’ll do this year?
Kate Gilday is a university student and youth leader in the Brisbane archdiocese. Her dream is to write for the Catholic Church.