One evening on a walk, I was listing out to my husband all the things I had accomplished that day. Perhaps the list went something like this: sweeping the kitchen floor, washing the dishes (thrice), taking our son to the library’s story hour, making tortillas, cleaning the bathroom, writing an essay draft… As I named each item, stacking them one on top of the other into an ever bigger monument to my illusory powers of energy and industry, it struck me: I am greedy for accomplishment.
Most often I think of greed in terms of physical things: a new pair of shoes or stacks of cash. But lately God has shown me that I can be just as greedy to run a line through an item in my to-do list as I can be to consume that last piece of flourless chocolate cake.
Merriam Webster defines greed as “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something… than is needed.”1 Many of the tasks on my to-do list are founded in the care and keeping of my family and community. And some are for my own care, so that I can continue caring for others. But sometimes tasks—even ones that appear benevolent on the surface—can be rooted in selfishness.
Sometimes I can be so excessively focused on polishing a social media post that I completely ignore my fussy toddler, asking for the twentieth time to have a glass of milk. Sometimes I frantically pick up scattered toys rather than pause to hold my husband’s gaze while he unloads a difficult work situation. Sometimes I hold my limited hours with such tight fists that I refuse to bend from my own agenda.
Like greed for buyables or cash, greed for accomplishments—and the time needed to complete them—is never sated. No matter how many things we finish, there is always more we feel we could have done during the day: one more errand jammed into the hours between breakfast and nap time, one more text squeezed in before bed. We keep believing the illusion that one more cleaned plate, one more typed word, one more crossed-off task will fulfill us. But when we seek wholeness in anything beyond being in Jesus, we will always find it is never enough. That we are never enough.
One intriguing part of Merriam Webster’s definition of greed is the desire for more than is needed. I often delude myself into thinking that a magazine-cover home is essential. But when I ponder what is necessary in the light of Jesus, picture-perfection does not make the list.
According to Jesus, only one thing is necessary.2 When traveling through a village, Jesus is invited to the home of his friends, Mary and Martha. While Martha is distracted with much serving (pouring wine, serving bread), Mary sits listening at Jesus’ feet. Mary is doing the only necessary thing: listening attentively to Jesus, being in his presence. When we prayerfully abide in God’s presence at all times, peace unfolds in our homes, truth is spoken, love is embodied—we are Jesus to each other.
What is necessary on a physical level is quite simple: nourishment three or four times a day, a house tidy enough to be safe, dishes clean enough to not carry germs. Viewed against the stark backdrop of necessity, the bar for housekeeping is pretty low.
Holding to what is truly needed, I am free to sit with my son on the floor and spin plastic rings rather than labor for a gleaming faucet. I am free to put down my phone and bask in the gifts that flourish with such abundance I can barely begin to name them: an unexpected breeze on a sweaty afternoon at the park, my son’s cheeks jiggling as he pads his bare feet over our hardwood floors, the faithful breath in my body.
Lately I’ve been meditating on what it looks like to cultivate greed’s opposite—generosity—in approaching daily tasks. Maybe cultivating generosity would mean holding our hours with open hands, realizing the minutes we are given are not ours to hoard. God has given us time to give it away again.
Being generous with time might mean pausing to ask how a neighbor is doing rather than rushing off to our next errand. It might mean playing tag with our children around the dining room table rather than wiping the spaghetti sauce-spattered microwave. In each of these small, daily choices we are given the opportunity to lay down our life for another as Jesus did for us—and entrust God with the consequences. We are given the chance to grow, incrementally, ever so slowly, into the image of a generous God.
This generosity with time is freeing, really. It allows freedom from our own imprisoning selfishness. A freedom to move beyond the confines of a to-do list. A freedom to be led not by an inner-taskmaster, but by the leading of a Spirit who loves. A freedom to enjoy God through delight or play. A freedom to acknowledge that the ultimate redemption of the world does not depend on our ability to accomplish things. A freedom to entrust the tasks we cannot complete to the God Who Holds All Things. And that is enough.
Reflection and Application:
- What would it look like to be generous with your time? What is keeping you from this practice?
- How would the rhythms of your life change if you focused on the one necessary thing?
- Meditate on the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Ask God to show you how you have been like Martha. Then ask how he is leading you to be like Mary.
1 Greed Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster
2 Luke 10:42
Photo credit: Emily Hughes
Elise Tegegne lives in Indianapolis with her husband and energetic two-year-old. Her work has appeared at Fathom, Plough, Risen Motherhood, and (in)courage, among others. She is writing a blog series called “Experiments in Inefficiency,” which seeks to find out what it means to live a Spirit-paced life. Read more of her words at elisetegegne.com or reach out on Instagram @elisetegegne.