Only One Thing is Necessary

[A version of this article was first published on the Classical Conversations blog.]

There is only one thing necessary in homeschooling and in life. That one thing is our full attention to, and adoration of, Christ. Ironically, at the very place where we are tempted to reply, “yes, but…” we find the answer to our hectic and busy lives.

Oh Martha

We get overwhelmed with homeschooling. This is not surprising for we also get overwhelmed with parenting, work, housekeeping, relationships, and life. Perhaps we are overwhelmed because we are Americans, and Americans have their foibles, but more likely it’s because we are just human; we take on too much and worry too much. The problem is that most of what we try to do is good. For homeschoolers the good comes in many forms: we schedule activities, prepare lessons, guide our children through their studies, and we are generally at it constantly. We can make a mile long list of all the good things to do. But even if we could complete that list we would likely miss the point, the one thing that makes homeschooling (and all education) worthwhile. What is that one thing? The answer is simple, though not easy; and it’s something every Christian should know, but we lose sight of it all the time. What is it? Luke presents it better than I ever could:

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NASB)

We too are worried and bothered about so many things. But only one thing is necessary. Choose the good part and it will not be taken away from you. Mary chose the one necessary thing. Will we?

I love this little story, but as with so many of my favorite Bible passages, I am am troubled by it. Consider the situation. Christ is present with his followers. These people love him. They care about him and they want to serve him. They want to serve others around him as well, and by doing so they are supporting His ministry. Christ came declaring the kingdom of God and these people want to be a part of that kingdom. Martha is intent on doing her part. She is laboring, taking on extra work. We know that being a good host was highly valued in those days and in that culture. And here Christ himself was in Martha’s house. This was a big deal. Was not Martha right in expecting her sister to help, even just a little? What in the world was Mary doing?

Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. She was fully attentive to Christ.

Does this not translate to our lives as well? We are serving God and His kingdom by raising and teaching our children in the way of Christ, are we not? We want to serve God, to serve others, to live out the kingdom of God here and now. How then can we forsake these duties, these good things, for something that looks like we’re loafing? In short, how are we going to teach our children all that they must know; and how are we going to get everything done, if we merely sit at Christ’s feet? Isn’t Martha right? Perhaps she needs to chill out a little, but on the whole isn’t she focused on the right things? Aren’t we right to fill our homeschooling days with a plethora of activities, lists, timelines, conjugations, papers, etc? Shouldn’t we be trying to get it all done?

The One Thing

I am also troubled by this story in part because I am not sure I fully grasp Christ’s meaning. Just what is the one thing?

Let’s think about this a little more. Every day we have the opportunity to serve, every day we can (at least in our hearts) be at our Lord’s feet. In Mary’s case Christ was actually, physically there. Where else could Mary be but at his feet? Martha was doing good, but she was not choosing the best part, the one thing. Martha hosted but Mary adored. Martha served but Mary worshiped. Martha was about getting the work done. Mary knew it was about Christ. Perhaps Martha was right to serve, but she was wrong to worry about it, and she probably should have set aside her worries and duties and just sat with Mary at Christ’s feet.

Could it be that the one thing is Christ Himself? Or perhaps, we should say the one thing is the proper orientation of our souls, or the right perspective on life, that comes from trusting entirely in God and understanding the true nature of His grace. Maybe it’s the same thing. Christ is the still point around which all of creation turns. In Him is the summation, revelation, and incarnation of God’s great master plan━a plan that is filled with mercy, is trustworthy, and is for our salvation.

The question remains: What does this look like in our lives today? How should this play out in our homeschooling contexts, on our Classical Conversations’ campuses, and in our daily struggles?

Our Choice

In our homeschooling we are faced with the choice of being a Martha or a Mary. The difficulty is that Martha offers the stronger appeal to us. We have so much to do, so much to get done. And those things often do need to get done. But the truth is we really don’t want to be told our “to do” lists are missing the point much of the time. If we are not careful, Martha will be our hero.

Perhaps we can get to the essence of Christ’s gentle statement to Martha by contrasting it with what we find so often in the world. Whether in our modern world or in the ancient world, the evidence points to a constant scurrying of human activity that hustles and bustles towards ever increasing busyness and ever increasing worries. We are full of the cares of the world. We are burdened with desires and concerns. Our schools, public and Christian, are bursting with activities. All too often schools exemplify the disease of the age with their multiplicity of subjects, standards, tests, grades, technologies, goals, curricula, hoops to jump through, levels to attain, packed lesson plans, and constant worries.

But what if one doesn’t get all of it done? What if one’s children do not get through the lesson in the allotted time? Or what if you do a bad job of teaching a lesson? What if a student fails to memorize the history timeline, or gets her conjugations mixed up, or just plain can’t sit still today? In those situations where is your compass pointing? What is your ultimate destination? Why are you even bothering to homeschool?

The Big Picture

Just a few verses after the scene with Mary and Martha, the disciples are asking Jesus how they should pray. In those days to ask a Rabbi how to pray was like asking him to sum up the essence of his teaching in a short, easy to remember statement. Jesus replies by saying they should pray this way:

“Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2b-4, NASB)

Notice first what is said: The prayer begins by praising God, then desiring His kingdom to come. Next is a plea for basic needs to be met. Forgiveness is then asked for, followed by a reminder of what condition must be met in order to be forgiven. Finally there is a request to be kept from temptation. Now notice what is not said: “Lord help us to get everything done, give us the strength to finish our “to do” lists, make sure our children complete their homework, help us to make successful lesson plans, and please solve the laundry pile.”

Certainly we have a lot to get done. We have taken on the great task of educating our children. But we must not lose sight of the one thing necessary. As we devise our curricula, make our lesson plans, teach our children, and prod them in their homework, we must remember to choose the good part that will not be taken away. Let us be fully attentive to Christ and REST in Him.

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