One afternoon, a Japanese freighter was being unloaded in the Los Angeles harbor. Gigantic cranes were lifting crates of merchandise from the hold of the ship and placing them on the docks below. Each crate had unusual handling instructions printed on the side in bold black letters. The writing was in both English and Japanese. Normally, you would expect an arrow with the word “Up” printed beside it. Such simple, concise language is usually sufficient, but that was not the case with these containers. On each of them was printed, “If this side is up, this carton is upside down.”
I believe that there are at least two sides or dimensions to life. There is the functional side, and there is the relational side. The functional dimension has to do with the jobs we do, the tasks we undertake, the projects we attempt. The relational has to do with what is happening between people while we are functioning.
Both dimensions are important. We cannot live without either of them. But in every life, one will be more important than the other. The question is which side is up?
I believe your honest answer to that question will determine, in large measure, how happy and how fulfilled you are in life. If the wrong side is up, your life will be upside down!
Jesus understood that both dimensions are important. Certainly there are functions we are to perform. We all have jobs to do, but, as important as it is to function well, Jesus insisted upon the primary importance of relationships. In fact, I cannot think of a better single word to describe the meaning of life than the word “relationship.”
The scripture we read this past Sunday was about Martha and Mary. Martha was a conscientious host. She was busy cleaning the house, preparing the food, meeting the needs of all in the household. She was as busy as a beaver, scurrying around with all of her functioning.
All the while, Mary just sat with Jesus, listening to him, talking with him, enjoying being with him. Martha became angry that she had to do all of the work. She asked Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help, but Jesus replied that Mary made the better choice, that what she was doing was more important than what Martha was doing.
Let me go on record as saying that I am not a Martha-hater. We have to eat, and someone has to do the work. Jesus would never deny the essential importance of what Martha was doing. The danger, as Jesus saw it, was that Martha would spend all of her time with busy work, performing a thousand and one tasks until he had to leave and, as a result, they would not have been together.
This is always the danger, is not it? We busy ourselves with so many “important” tasks. We spend all of our time and energy functioning and never get around to relating. Mary said, in effect, “The busywork can wait. I do not want to miss being with Jesus,” Jesus said that Mary’s priorities were right side up!
Of course, it begs the question: What about your life? Are you living right side up?