Leaving Salem

A familiar passage from the New Testament speaks of Jesus’ visit to the sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha, the consummate homemaker, set out to make everything perfect. Who can blame here? How many people get a personal visit from the son of God? She basted the leg of lamb. She labored over her casseroles. She fussed with her desserts. She nearly broke her back vacuuming the carpet, waxing the floor and cutting the grass in preparation. And bless her heart, no one was helping her. Little sister Mary sat in the living room with that troupe of twelve lazy men, listening to Jesus’ stories. It finally became more than Martha could take.

She stormed in and demanded that Jesus tell Mary to get her rumpus in gear. Didn’t he care that she, Martha, was doing all the work? Didn’t he know that dinner parties don’t materialize out of thin air? Couldn’t he use a little of his muscle to give her a little help? Jesus told Martha to relax, to quit worrying about “so many things.” Mary, sitting quietly, listening, had chosen the best path, and he refused to take that away from her. In the economy of Jesus, stillness and calm were more important than throwing a huge bash with all the accompanied activity. Martha probably didn’t take this rebuke very well. She strikes me as a kind of “fixer;” one who enjoys being in on the action; a woman who liked to solve problems.

Are you a fixer? Do you enjoy playing the role of knight in shining armor, charging into the fray on your white stallion? Do you find yourself strangely invigorated by a crisis? The water at Niagara Falls tumbles over its precipice at more than sixty miles per hour. Every second, 1.5 million gallons of water fall 170 feet to the pool below. That’s enough water to fill your bath tub 30,000 times – every second. Anthony DeMello tells of a young and ambitious plumber who stood on the observation deck overlooking this grand cataract. He had just received his plumbing license and was ready to show off his pipeline prowess. He said to his friends standing with him, “Yep, I can fix this.”

Having served as a pastor and a chaplain I find the role of fixer, like Martha, to be intoxicating. I suppose all helping professions have this in common. I mean, what could be more stimulating than arriving at just the right time to diffuse a crisis? Or plunging into an emergency and feeling the rush of adrenaline and the challenge of work to be done? Or having just the right words to say at just the right moment? A friend of mine spent the early part of her career working with victims of domestic violence. Sometimes the people in her care had such an overabundance of challenges and troubles that “fixing” them was impossible. These woman and children had been physically and sexually violated. They were often estranged from their once supportive families. They were buried under a mountain of financial and emotional baggage. They had no place to go, no one to trust, no future to hope for and no peaceful place to lay their head.

My friend’s initial goal for these women was to stop their tears, or to propose a game plan that would bring ultimate resolution, or to somehow wave a magic wand so that all the broken pieces would be put back into place. But like water pouring over Niagara, there was no way to stop the deluge. My friend learned a lesson: The greatest intervention in a time of crisis is not always a well thought out solution. The greatest intervention is listening, giving time and being quiet.

At the end of the day most folks aren’t really looking for answers or to have their problems solved. They are looking for someone who cares. It’s possible to get caught up in the addicting euphoria of “saving” others. When this happens, we who present ourselves as helpers and healers become contaminated by an alternative, ego-driven agenda. We fail to be present for those who need a listening ear. We miss out on connecting with the hurting. We ignore the discovery of Mary, a discovery of attentiveness, that Jesus said, was “really the only thing worth being concerned about.”