"The Myth of Multitasking"

Proper 11.C.22
Luke 10:25-37
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

For many years I labored under the illusion that I was a multi-tasker. Okay—I’ll just come out and say it—I was proud of my ability to multitask. So, it was with a bit of consternation, that a few years back I began to realize that it had become a bit more challenging for me to do several things at once. I raised the issue with my daughter who is working on her doctorate in clinical psychology and she replied: “Mom, I’ve got news for you. You never could multi-task.” Turns out, she’s right. The Harvard Business Review reports: “Based on over a half century of cognitive science and more recent studies on multitasking, we (now) know that multitaskers do less and miss information. It takes time (an average of 15 minutes) to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an e-mail. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%. Long-term memory suffers, as does creativity—a skill associated with keeping in mind multiple, less common, associations” * Suffice it to say, multitasking is a myth. Turns out the most important thing is to be focused on the most important thing.

We might think multitasking is a modern-day problem—after all, we live in a fast-paced, warp-speed world. The reality is it’s always been a problem—manifesting itself in distraction, frequently coupled with frustration. And distraction is the problem Martha faces in today’s Gospel. She has focused on the minutiae, losing sight of the main thing.

Luke writes: But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to Jesus 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.”

Martha’s distraction has led to frustration. She is consumed by the doing. Speaking from personal experience, it’s easy to let this happen. We become focused on the multiplicity of tasks and demands in front of us—and quite frequently we become confused—falling into the trap of valuing ourselves based upon what we do rather than who we are. This takes the form of taking pride in how much we accomplish—how many balls we can juggle at one time, the amount of contacts we have amassed, the number of likes on our Instagram, the insane amount of hours we work and the productivity we churn out. And this perception becomes a reflection of our importance, not only in our eyes, and those of our colleagues, friends and family, but also a reflection of how we believe we are seen in the eyes of God. If multi-tasking is a myth, so is the belief that we are defined by what we accomplish. All of this amounts to one thing—an error of perception that the Gospel today takes pains to undo.

You see, it’s not that the tasks themselves are not worthy of being done. Where would we be without the helping hand of a Martha in our midst? Who would set the altar, arrange the flowers, assemble the programs and play the organ for our worship? More often than not it’s the doers who make it possible for the listeners to sit and reflect. So, what’s the problem?

The problem, as it turns out, isn’t the doing—the setting of the table, the stirring of the stew, the sweeping of the floor. The problem is distraction. The problem for Martha is that she has drawn the conclusion that the source of her frustration and dissatisfaction is her sister not doing enough, rather than looking inward to the true origin of her unhappiness—which lies within Martha herself, rather that outside, with her sister, Mary.

Isn’t that the truth. When we are frustrated it’s easier to point the finger at what someone else is not doing…or has done improperly, if not poorly, than to look inside, to see the real reason for our unhappiness.

So, look at what Jesus does in today’s gospel. He responds to Martha with love. He calls her name twice “Martha, Martha”. This is important, because it expresses that he truly does care for and about her (Grammatically, this is what employing the double-vocative of the greeting means in ancient Greek). And he calls her to be focused on the most important thing. Jesus calls her back to herself—and to him. And it is the same with each of us. This is what God wills for us—the opportunity to focus, to put the distractions at bay and simply sit at the feet of the Lord and be.

This morning, at our 10:00 a.m. service, we have the joy of welcoming Lucas Viellette into the Christian faith and life. Now, Lucas is young, he’s not yet been handed a list of what is to be accomplished.

But as Lucas grows older—there will be a multitude of people, tasks, expectations and projects which will complete for his attention. There will be a lot to do and distractions a-plenty to discern. So, on that day when there is a report due at school and an important soccer match to be played, a day when the trash didn’t get taken out and the dog still needs to be walked—and there is so much to do that it seems nothing will get done and life is simply overwhelming—it is then, that I hope Lucas’s parents, Emily and Mark, will walk him into his room, point to his baptismal certificate on the wall and remind him of this part of his baptismal service. The moment when the questions are asked: “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? And “Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?” The answer—of course, is “I do.”

We are all in need of an occasional re-orientation of our world—a turning away from what is not helpful and a turning toward what gives us life. I liken these moments to the point in today’s reading where Jesus calls Martha’s name and urges her to re-focus and re-orient—to turn away from the distractions which beset her and turn toward what promises life and joy. And in these moments, perhaps we might have the grace to realize that Jesus is calling our name as well, urging us to let go of the distractions, to place the needful things that require doing in the larger perspective, and to make time to sit and place ourselves in a position of receptivity to our Lord.

Today’s lesson ends with these words of our Savior: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” May this be so for Lucas, and for all of us here as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.