The One Thing


The Secret To Life Is One Thing

by Eric Elkin

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
— Luke 10:41ff

What is the secret of life? If someone were to ask you that question, would you know the answer? And, if you could answer, would you feel confident in your answer?

Mitch Robbins was asked this question in the movie City Slickers. Mitch (played by Billy Crystal) is a 39-year-old radio ad salesman struggling with life.  He and his friends go to a "dude ranch" to participate in a cattle drive. The trip is to celebrate their turning 40.

Mitch's problem is a declining sense of joy. His growing feeling of hopelessness is starting to destroy his marriage. Something we learn when his wife tells him to "go find his smile." We discover each person's dilemma as the friends reminisce, complain about the present, and fear the future. In a way, each one is searching for the secret to life.

Halfway through the cattle drive, Mitch finds himself alone with Curly (played by Jack Palance), a grizzled old cowboy leading the team. Curly tells Mitch how city folk spend "50 weeks of the year tying a knot in your rope" and then come here for two and want them all untied. 

He asks Mitch, "Do you know what the secret of life is?" Then holds up one finger and says, "One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that, and the rest don't mean sh*t." Mitch is clueless but desperate to be told the answer. He asks what the one thing is, but Curly says, "That's what you have to find out."

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
— Oprah Winfrey

This little piece of wisdom shared by an old cowboy in a movie seems to support Jesus' point in today's reading. And, provides the same level of confusion. Both Jesus and Curly say the secret to life is one thing. But both are kind of fuzzy on the answer.

The story of Martha and Mary is well known. Its meaning so defined it is hard to say anything new. Still, something struck me as I read this text that I've never really considered before today. Jesus tells Martha she lacks one thing. However, he never tells us what the one thing is.

Theologians often divide these two characters along the lines of spiritual practices. Martha is busy. She is the person who lives out her faith by doing work in the church.  Mary is the spiritual one. She chooses the contemplative life. I'm not sure this is a valid division of approaches. I have led contemplative worship services. They require a lot of prep work. 

Martha's dilemma in the story is the same as Mitch's in the movie. They are both worried and distracted by many things. These things are robbing them of life. Perhaps the one thing Mary has chosen correctly is the choice not to worry or be distracted. She is enjoying life by being with the one who gives life. 

If the correct choice is to abandon worry and distraction, then perhaps the one thing is actually gratitude. I don't know how to stop worrying or shutdown distractions. However, when I am grateful for what is in front of me, I don't think about either. I'm feeling pretty confident gratitude is the secret to life. 

Click to read Luke 10: 38-42

Reflection Questions:

  • How would yo answer the question to the secret of life?

  • What are your worries and distractions?

  • How often are you able to set your worries and distraction aside?

  • Today, what are you grateful for?

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