I’ve been called an over-achiever.
And I’ve probably earned the title. Whatever I do, I like to do well.
I’ve had to learn, oftentimes the hard way, how much I can handle. Otherwise, I end up saying yes to everything and taking on more than I can handle.
This drive to do well isn’t always good. What starts out as wanting to do a job well done can turn into a fear of failing. And this fear can turn me into a controlling perfectionist. It can cause me to be stressed to the point of cracking and overwhelmed to the point of drowning.
And sometimes, I find myself basing my worth and my identity on what I do and how well I do it. When this happens, I begin to strive for success in order to earn approval. I do things for my own glory, not to glorify God.
This happens to a lot of us. We believe that what we do is who we are. If what we do isn’t good enough, then we’re not good enough. We’re failures. And we so fear failing. And the fear causes us to attempt to plan it all, control it all, figure it all out, and hold it all together, so everything can be (or at least appear to be) perfect.
Have you ever been there?
But the thing is, trying to do things good enough so we can be successful enough to earn enough approval, acceptance, love, and worth, really just isn’t enough. It isn’t the point. It isn’t how we were meant to live.
All of our good works and success and over-achieving will fall short if our goal is to earn something. Rather, we need to find our identity and worth in Jesus, who has given us everything.
We see this in the lives of two sisters who get a visit from Jesus:
Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They go through the village of Bethany, and here they are welcomed into the home of these two sisters, Martha and Mary. We learn from John 11 that these woman also had a brother named Lazarus, who was probably among those sitting and listening to Jesus’ teaching.
We read that Martha was not among that group of eager listeners. She was busy preparing a dinner. A big dinner. One that would have to feed several men, hungry from their travels. She takes her duty of hospitality seriously, as any woman of that time and culture would.
Soon, Martha becomes distracted by her preparations. She is worried about the details. She is upset over her sister not helping. We get the sense that she wanted everything to be perfect for Jesus’ visit, and so she was trying to control everything. Even her sister.
Can you relate? I know I can.
Details becomes a distraction. Preparations become a need for perfection. The scrambling to appear put together on the outside leaves us falling apart on the inside. We become worn and weary with trying to plan it all, control it all, figure it all out, and hold it all together.
Martha reached that point. But she had a solution: Tell my sister to come help me.
Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet instead of serving with the woman, where tradition would have her. But Jesus didn’t mind this break of tradition. He tells Martha that Mary has discovered the one thing needed, the one thing worth being concerned about. That one thing is being in Jesus’ presence.
Martha’s hospitality wasn’t a bad thing. Carrying out our responsibilities isn’t a bad thing. Completing the tasks given us isn’t a bad thing. Striving to do a job well done isn’t a bad thing.
But Martha had become more concerned about performing and perfection than about being present with Jesus. And don’t we all get caught up in the performance trap at times? Don’t we all begin to place our worth and identity in our successes and achievements? We work hard and diligently for Jesus, hoping to earn that good-girl status, while forgetting to just be in Jesus’ presence.
The work we do in service to Jesus was never meant to distract us from Jesus. It was never meant to be a worrisome, cumbersome burden. It was never meant to be a show of performing and appearing perfect before God and people. It was never meant to earn us our worth and identity, which are only found in Jesus.
Some versions of Luke 10:40 have Martha asking Jesus, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?”
Don’t You see me and the work I am doing? Don’t You notice me? Don’t You value me?
That’s really what Martha wants. To be seen and to be valued. To know she has worth in somebody’s eyes.
Deep down, we ask the same question as Martha as we scramble to succeed. Lord, don’t You care? Don't You see me? Don’t You notice me? Don’t You value me?
Because deep down, our scramble to succeed is a search for significance. To know we have worth in somebody’s eyes.
Jesus tells Martha that yes, He does see her. He sees how worried and upset she has become. He sees how distracted her heart and mind have become. And He tells her that she needn’t be so concerned with pulling off the perfect dinner party. My dear Martha, only one thing is needed.
Success isn’t needed. Achievements aren’t needed. Things don’t need to be perfect. We don’t need to earn approval or acceptance or worth or love, because Jesus has already given us these. We don’t need to plan it all, control it all, figure it all out, or hold it all together.
We just need Jesus.