Over the summer we took a family vacation in Europe. It was a wonderful trip where we met up with old friends in a simple cottage on the coast of Wales, ate lots of fish and chips, traveled to London and Paris and visited Peter’s cousins in Denmark. We climbed towers and walked miles and hiked cliffs. We toured museums and galleries and attended concerts and stood in the center of ancient cathedrals.
For much of the walking, which is to say much of the trip, Penny lagged behind. She moves more slowly than her brother and sister, and it isn’t easy to keep up with her active and type-A mom and dad. It didn’t really bother Penny to be at the back of the line. She wasn’t rushing to get to cross the street before the light turned red. She wasn’t fretting about whether we’d miss out on an attraction. She took it all in, but in her own way, and at her own pace. Well, at her own pace when we let her.
There was a lot of cajoling. I held her hand and tugged her along through many blocks of walking. We counted the steps up to the top of Notre Dame (428). We counted the steps down the Eiffel Tower. We played spelling games and category games as we walked beside the River Thames in London. And sometimes we let her opt out—to “miss out” on an experience because she wanted to take it all more slowly or just go back to the room and read.
When we returned from this European adventure, the kids went right into Vacation Bible School at our church. On the second day, they came home talking about their Bible lesson. It was the story of Mary and Martha, two sisters who receive an unexpected visit from Jesus and his disciples. Martha huffs and puffs her way through preparing a meal for this band of traveling men. Mary sits on the floor and listens to Jesus. And Jesus commends her for it.
The kids sat around our kitchen island munching on nachos and Marilee said, “I would be like Martha—working in the kitchen.” William nodded. “Me too,” he said. We went through each member of the family, and one by one we noticed that almost all of us would be in the kitchen, banging the pots
and pans in frustration, missing out on the experience of Jesus in our midst. “
“But Penny would be like Mary,” Marilee said. Penny shrugged and nodded.
Penny would be like Mary.
It’s true. She would sit at Jesus’ feet without feeling responsible for feeding him, without worrying about the resentment oozing from her siblings’ hard work, and without worrying what other people were thinking of her. And Jesus would commend her for listening, for being still, for receiving what he wanted to give her.
Our trip to Europe was wonderful, and I’m glad we pushed ourselves and our kids and saw so many sights and experienced so many places. But I come home aware that Penny had something to teach me in her unwillingness to hurry. She was willing to accept her own limitations without turning them into anxiety. She was willing to miss out on some opportunities in order to rest and take care of herself. She wasn’t in a rush. She was willing to listen.
Jesus says that in the kingdom of heaven—in the place where God’s rule governs–the last will be first. I imagine that someday Penny will be the one leading me, holding my hand not to tug me along and help me keep up, but to gently remind me that sometimes it is good to slow down.