Once there was a young man—we’ll call him William—who was determined to make himself a successful businessman, regardless of the cost. He established his own small company, and because, in addition to the 60+ hours he worked each week, he was always thinking about how to improve it and gain more customers, the business was soon very successful. Of course, the young man had no time for socializing and little time for his family, and he told himself he was too tired on the weekend for church; his successful business had become all-consuming. The feelings of happiness and satisfaction William expected to receive, however, didn’t come; instead, he was so stressed out and depressed that he began undergoing therapy, meeting with a counselor once a week. Unfortunately, after five years of this routine, he showed no improvement; if anything, he got worse.
Then a breakthrough finally came, and it happened in a very simple way. William once again began playing the piano—something he had always enjoyed as a child—and almost immediately he started feeling better about himself. Because he had considerable talent, William was capable of producing beautiful music, and this greatly increased his self- esteem; it also helped him relax and cope with worry and stress, and from there he began remembering what was truly important, and started achieving a better balance in life (Antoinette Bosco, Miracles Abound, p. 87). We can get so caught up in our activities that we lose sight of what really matters—and when this happens, life itself sometimes reminds us that we haven’t yet made enough room for God or chosen the better half.
Most Americans tend to work more hours per week than persons in many other nations around the world; we believe in being productive and keeping busy, as did St. Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. This approach certainly has many advantages, and sometimes it is absolutely necessary—but it’s also very easy to overdo it. That’s what Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) was telling Martha: not to stop working or to neglect her duties, but to make sure she also had quiet time for prayer and reflection—in other words, time to be with Him. Her sister Mary understood this; she chose the better part by making her relationship with the Lord her highest priority. This isn’t an excuse for ignoring our duties or being lazy; after all, Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18:1-10) sprang into hurried activity when three guests unexpectedly arrived. Rather, choosing the better part means learning to recognize, appreciate, and respond to the Lord’s presence—regardless of whether we’re working or relaxing. We can always make time for God, whether it’s praying while we’re laboring, asking His help as we’re about to begin a new project or chore, saying a few silent prayers while moving from one activity to another, carving out a few minutes of quiet time in our schedule, or examining our conscience at the end of a busy day, and then asking the Lord to guide and assist us tomorrow. This is what Jesus was inviting St. Martha to do—and it’s a lesson the Lord wants us to learn and practice, as well.
In his Letter to the Colossians (1:24-28), St. Paul speaks of filling up in his own flesh “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Technically speaking, there is nothing lacking in the sufferings of Jesus; His agonizing passion and death was more than enough to redeem the world and save every sinner who has ever lived. St. Paul isn’t suggesting there’s something missing or incomplete in the one perfect sacrifice of Christ; rather, what’s often lacking is our own willingness or capacity to receive all that the Lord offers. God is constantly seeking to bestow His grace upon us, but so many times we’re too busy, self-centered, or caught up in the things of this world to open our hearts to His grace, or even to recognize or admit our need for it. This is where quiet time with the Lord—also known as prayer, meditation, or mindfulness—comes in.
Not only do we owe God our attention; we also owe it to ourselves; the more we make time for Him, the healthier and happier our lives can be. The truth of this statement is backed up by many medical studies and much scientific research. For instance, the American Heart Association showed that patients who regularly practiced spiritual quiet time reduced their risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death from all other natural causes by fifty percent. Other studies have shown that both elderly persons and teenagers, plus everyone in-between, can greatly reduce their risk of serious disease and death simply by attending church and otherwise practicing their faith. Other researchers discovered that Christians—both Catholics and Protestants—have higher levels of satisfaction in life, and cope better with stressful situations, than non-believers. This is especially true for those who attend church each weekend, and who try to spend at least a few minutes in prayer every day; regularly focusing on God helps us bear our crosses and get the most out of the gift of life He has given us.
Whenever someone comes to me for counseling and tells me all of his or her troubles, I try to listen patiently and sympathetically, and where appropriate, offer advice—but at some point I need to ask the person a very important question: where is God in his or her life? If a relationship with Him is not the person’s highest priority, it’s no surprise things are starting to unravel; if someone only turns to God in moments of crisis or need, the Lord has little choice but to use such means to get his or her attention. The reason we’re here on earth is to prepare ourselves for eternity, and it’s very foolish to count on making a deathbed conversion; we don’t know if we’ll be given that opportunity. The time to begin coming closer to Jesus is right now, and regular quiet time in His presence is an essential part of this process.
Quite often life requires us to be busy and active like Martha, and there’s nothing wrong with this—but we must not allow these moments to keep us from also imitating her sister Mary, or to crowd out the time we should set aside to be with the Lord. Finding the proper balance between work, leisure, and prayer is the key to a spiritually successful and happy life—and it’s through our efforts to live in this manner that we truly choose the better part.