"JEEEE-susss, it's no fair. Mary is making me do all the work. Make her help meeee." This quote is often used to pit Martha against her sister in Luke 10:40, thus retconning the catfight trope into holy scripture itself. Not only does the typical translation of these women's relationship set up a false binary between doing and being, service and leadership, it keeps us from more deeply seeing ourselves reflected in the scripture.
Martha says, "Tell Mary to get off her behind." She speaks to Jesus with the confidence of someone who knows her hearer will certainly see her side. Instead: "Sorry, Martha. I'm enjoying this conversation with your sister." If she'd had access to an ice pack, Martha would no doubt have used it on her floor-bruised jaw and her indignant-red cheeks.
How often do we approach God authoritatively, knowing God will agree with us? If you're like me, it's more often than I care to admit. "Not my will, but thi...yada, yada, yada, I'm sure you'd like to bless me with good weather for my road trip and a change of attitude for that person who has been a thorn in my side and a new on-sale dress for Easter."
Whole congregations can do this too. We pray for more people to join our membership - because God must want that for us - but what if we're already the right size to do the job God has for us? We pray for more resources, but what if more money leads to more distractions and excuses from spiritual growth and disciple-making? To the best of my understanding, God doesn't think in the same categories and metrics that we do.
This is what makes the prayer of indifference - a key component of discernment - so important and so hard. It means acknowledging our short-sightedness. It means giving up some control. But unless we can offer prayers that sound like, "Here's what I'm worried about, please do your God thing" without prescribing what we'd like that God thing to look like, we're too attached to a particular outcome. That means limiting God, or at least limiting our openness to God.
The prayer of indifference is made a bit easier by cultivating a habit of gratitude. Noting where God has been at work in, around, and through us in big and small ways reminds us that our faith in God's presence and goodness is warranted. God doesn't do on-demand prayer responses, but God hasn't abandoned us yet.
In what areas might your congregation pray for indifference? How might developing a gratitude as a default posture help?
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash.