While waiting in the airport in Tucson, Arizona, I read the following information printed inside the cap of a Snapple juice bottle: there are 119 grooves on the edge of a US quarter. I have not checked the truth of this, but I will accept it at face value. This information, of course, is not earth-shattering but rather provided as a form of entertainment. As we all know, we live in an “information age” in which we are incessantly confronted by so much information that we cannot possibly know it all, much less process it. Much of that information is of little value. But that does not stem the flow of it coming at us wherever we go.
The technological advances of our age mean that we are never far from this incessant flow of information. Ordinary people now carry communication and information devices that once were reserved primarily for businesses. What seemed like a luxury a few years ago is now a necessity, especially if one wants to “stay connected.” No doubt, you have a mobile phone, a laptop computer, and numerous other devices that keep you connected. The problem with all this technology is that now it is hard to escape from its grip on our lives. Wherever we go, we now can be contacted by the office via telephone, an email message, a text message, or overnight letter The boundaries between work and leisure are eroded when we can be found at any time. Whether we are in the car, on a train, or in the air — at the beach or in our own backyard, our time away from work can always be interrupted.
“Multi-tasking” is the neologism coined to describe the frenetic activity of modern life. I suspect that while “multi-tasking” is seen a virtue, at least in the business world today, in previous years it would have been called “being distracted.”
Even though no one used this term when I was growing up, I have long been a multi-tasker. When I was a full-time student, I sometimes studied with the stereo and television on at the same time, while I jumped from one subject to the other. Even now, I am invariably in the process of reading five or more books at the same time. While I am aware that this kind of frenetic activity is not always good for me, I, like many people I know, find it hard to stop.
The patron saint of multi-taskers, if one can call her that, is Martha. In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we find the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of the two sisters Mary and Martha. While Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him, Martha was busy cooking, cleaning, and serving food to Jesus and the other guests.
But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:40-42, emphasis added).
The meaning of this saying is not immediately clear. While it is possible that Jesus means that she need prepare only one dish, or that only a few things are really needed on the dinner table, Jesus’ words seem to point to a deeper, more spiritual meaning. If we examine the rest of the gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus again and again stresses that the duty of the Christian is to seek first and foremost to do the will of God. When we are busy doing so many things, we are more easily distracted from doing “the one thing that is needed.”
In the gospels, Jesus reminds those who seek to follow him that we should not allow ourselves to be identified solely by what we do. That is how we are often judged by the world around us. God cares above all about who we are. What we do, that is, how we choose to be stewards of the time that God has given us on the earth, flows from who we are.
In the midst of a multi-tasking world, take time to think about the “one thing” that God asks of you.