This past weekend we had a conference focused on overcoming the habits that keep us enslaved to sin and darkness, the stuff that keeps us in our own orbit, revolving around ourselves in tighter and tighter circles until we consume ourselves.
There were a lot of things that struck me, but one of the final messages really brought a few things home. People can sometimes get the idea that a focus on healing and spiritual growth is nothing more than esoteric navel-gazing, and has little to do with God’s mission on the earth. You can focus on spiritual disciplines and mystical experiences with God or you can focus on evangelism and hospitality and expressing God’s love to the world. You can be Mary or you can be Martha. And never the twain shall meet. Choose your own adventure, but you can only choose one. But that’s a false dichotomy, really.
Our message is really not much of a message unless it has actually affected us. We can’t really talk about new life in Christ unless we are, at least in some small way, living a new life in Christ. Sometimes people are overly focused on their private experiences with God. But if our goal in getting healed, growing up, becoming mature, is simply so we’ll have a smoother time in life, it probably isn’t going to happen for us ("So you’re wanting to grow spiritually for selfish reasons? Something tells me that really won’t work"). The "Marys" among us probably need to understand that the goal of becoming whole is to be able to heal others where we were wounded, to free others where we were bound. There are also those who are overly focused on serving and reaching out, to the degree that they sacrifice their personal growth. More and more, those "Marthas" among us will marginalize their own message because of its ineffectuality in their own lives ("How many more people do we need like you?"). They need to understand that if we aren’t experiencing new life, we don’t have a message. We have to become the message, or it rings hollow.
As has been said before, it takes Mary and Martha to get Jesus over for dinner. It’s a crude way of saying it, but I think the point is that the Marys and the Marthas can actually learn some good things from one another, if we’ll take the time, and enter into the humility to listen to one another. The church will need both intimacy with God and involvement with culture if she is going to be salt and light.