Practical tools for your personal spiritual life from Phil Fox Rose.
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What Works: Waiting Patiently Follow-up and Martha and Mary
My last column, about waiting patiently for a late bus, provoked some interesting comments and reactions (on the site and directly) that tease out the bigger issues involved. While I wrote about waiting for someone who’s late, two commenters brought up the flipside of the same time management coin — what to do when you’re going to be late yourself through no fault of your own. Fellow Busted Halo contributor Ginny Moyer wrote:
I have often been in situations where freeway traffic is crawling along, which is pretty high on the frustration-meter. In those situations, there really IS nothing to do but just let go and crawl right along with it. That requires a certain kind of surrender, which is not easy for me … but it’s a skill worth cultivating. When I stop fighting it and just let it go, I can feel my stress level drop dramatically. “It is what it is” is a very helpful mantra for me, in those situations.
And Emily said,
I also think of saying that mantra “get there when i’ll get there” is like a little prayer to the Holy Spirit saying, I trust you, guide me. It has given me the best relief when I used to have road rage.
I’ve written two earlier columns about being late, here and here. Whether you’re waiting for someone who’s late or you’re running late yourself, the answer, of course, is the same: accept that this is what’s happening and, if you can’t change it, don’t stress. In the same way that in my scenario, “the bus will arrive when it arrives,” if you’re running late (and there’s no way to do anything about it), then you will arrive when you arrive. Now, when I used to be late all the time, it was a different story. A lot of the anxiety I experienced while running late was directly related to self-recriminations and guilt.
I have found that since getting better with time management myself, those times I am late are not as stressful, because I know I’ve made a reasonable effort. (If I have, that is.) This itself is part of a much bigger spiritual principle: If your intentions are aligned with good, then on those occasions when things don’t work out, there’s no reason to feel guilty. That guilt comes from believing you haven’t done all you could. And as Ken Maher observed, doing “the right thing” is important even when you expect it won’t matter, as in showing up on time for someone (or something, like my bus) who’s late:
Being on time is merely a matter of respect for and commitment to the other(s) whom you are meeting. Your respect and commitment should have nothing to do with theirs, just like the size of your Christmas present to someone should have nothing to do with the size of theirs to you.
If you do the right thing regardless of what others are doing, then your heart can be at rest. Or, as the saying goes, take the right actions and let go of the results.
I think kelly damude summed it up better than I could have myself:
Life’s too short to waste time being grumpy about things we have no control over, so BE in the moment & make it count.
It’s remarkable how much of the spiritual advice amounts to this simple concept of being fully present in the moment. I think that’s because we need to be reminded of it again and again.
Martha and Mary
There was one dissenting commenter though. Theresa Henderson said,
I’d contact the bus company and inform them of each time the bus was late and petition that they have a covered area built there because of the number of folks who wait there. Get the folks to sign it too. I’m a lot more patient when sometimes i am part of a solution.
To paint far too broad a stroke, the world of spiritually-minded folks is often broken down into Marthas and Marys, from the story of Jesus visiting the home of two sisters (Luke 10: 38-42):
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then 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.”
While Martha is busy running back and forth to the kitchen preparing dinner and being the perfect host, Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet, which he says is the only thing that is needed. This brief 100-word story has been interpreted many ways depending on who’s doing the interpreting. I won’t get into whether there is a preference for a contemplative over a social justice orientation in Jesus’ words. (As a contemplative myself, I’m biased.)
But as I see it, the main point is that it is better to be inactive and truly present than to be busy doing “good” things at the expense of being present. This is not a call to do nothing. Jesus also said blessed are those who mourn and blessed are the peacemakers. Martha’s fault was not that she cared about being a good host, or that she wanted to make a nice dinner for Jesus. The fault was that she allowed her busyness and her resentment of Mary destroy her present moment awareness.
It’s possible that the actions described by commenter Theresa Henderson would be done in a loving and fully present manner, but for myself I find that if I let myself get worked up over something like this, it is usually not healthy. Like Martha, I find myself living in the resentments, not in the presence of Jesus, who in the story is physically in the room, but who is just as present for us all if we can only notice.
There’s also the distinct possibility that what the action-taker thinks is the solution is not the best thing. In the late bus scenario, I wouldn’t want a shelter clogging up the sidewalk and looking urban. Martha’s answer in Luke 10 is for Mary to get off the floor and come help in the kitchen, leaving Jesus alone in the other room. I have found that 90 percent of the time when it feels like actions need to be taken, they really don’t. So, I’d prefer to err on the side of being present than on the side of taking action. Whatever you are doing, though, just make sure to be present in the moment.
Thanks for all the wonderful comments to the last post. This issue of the spirituality of time just keeps coming back. It’s something so many of us struggle with.