“That person certainly has been in that bathroom for a long time. I don’t know how much longer I can wait!”
“Are you sure there’s someone in there?”
“Well, the sign above the handle said ‘OCCUPIED’ when I went over there a few minutes ago. And I haven’t seen anyone come out since then. I have a clear view to the door.”
Finally I could wait no longer. I left my husband in the restaurant booth and resolutely headed to the restroom door. After tentatively knocking, I turned the handle. The door opened… to an empty bathroom.
I have occupied several apartments and houses in my life. Some were short term and others spanned several years. Although the house my family occupied when I was growing up no longer belongs to us, my memories still are occupied with the exact image of those childhood bedrooms, kitchen, and family room.
When the children were babies, the challenge to keep them occupied while in the high chair waiting for their food taxed my ingenuity. I discovered a clean and safe solution with an Ice cube on the tray. They couldn’t pick it up and drop it on the floor as they did with so many other objects. I just had to be sure the meal was ready before the ice cube melted or the frustrated cries set in!
Later, as they were a little older, I would seat them around the table with their crayons and inexpensive paper plates. Coloring contests kept them occupied while I prepared dinner. They knew each would receive some “prize” for their masterpieces, even if it was for using the most colors in their picture.
If I hadn’t taken the time to provide a positive outlet for my children’s energy and creative curiosity, they were sure to find something less constructive to occupy themselves with… out of my sight and supervision.
What do I do to keep occupied? While waiting in a doctor’s office or in line at the store… When I need a distraction from pain or a sorrowful situation… When my task at hand is mind numbing in its repetition?
“The idle brain is the devil’s playground!” exclaimed Professor Harold Hill in the musical The Music Man. Certainly as an adult I should be able to consider other options for occupying my mind besides evil thoughts. After all, there’s a whole list of topics in Philippians 4:8 I can consider: “Whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, etc.”
But what happens when I am preoccupied? When I am like Martha during the visit from Jesus her Lord… when she was focused only on the preparations… the things that had worldly importance but were of no spiritual value. Oh that happens all too often for my own good!
Even worse is when, as some translations of this word propose, I am cumbered… weighed down… burdened. That reminds me of the old hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The writer poses the situation: “Are we weak and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care?” The encouragement that follows is always a comfort: Hand it over to my Precious Savior, my Refuge!
Cumbered can also mean littered or cluttered. Ah, that messy mind that has lost its focus because of all of the junk lying around. That scattered, disorganized head needs my Lord’s attention too!
And then there is that other meaning… “getting in the way of.” Those are the times I’m so busy with distractions that they keep me from accomplishing anything… something like those three little ones underfoot, undoing all I’d straightened and cleaned. Those were the days when I asked myself at bedtime, “What did I accomplish today?” At least back then I had a reasonable explanation for my lack of results.
“We have become occupied with satisfying our wants and have ignored the needs of others. For this, forgive us.”
These words from a worship service cut to my heart one Sunday morning. Was I too busy concentrating on my own life, my own wants and desires, that others were suffering?
Of course I could justify myself by saying I wasn’t a member of some aristocratic leisure class who looked for entertaining ways to occupy their days.
I also needed to be reminded that it’s not enough to be so busily occupied with being sure I’m not sinning that I trip on my own self-righteousness. It’s not enough to concentrate on keeping that “stall”… that mind and heart… swept clean so that they only appear to be occupied and are really of no use to anyone else.
No. The Lord wants me to be actively occupied.
But at the same time I can’t spend my entire day keeping a record of my actions!
As I was preparing this message, I found a wonderful Bible passage: “They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (Ecclesiastes 5:20). The previous verse referred to those who have no worries about their everyday safety and existence. I know this is not the actual day-to-day for many of my Christian brothers and sisters in this world. It hasn’t always been my reality either.
But I can still keep occupied with gladness of heart, that gift of grace and forgiveness that brightens the worst of days. And when I do, I don’t become cumbered with those cares, those distractions, those never-ending tasks that sometimes seem to consume my days no matter what my circumstances. I can truly take Matthew 6:25-34 to heart and concentrate on the joy I find in each day.
Meanwhile, what occupies my thoughts? Who engages my heart and soul? Who is it that takes possession of my life? Who dwells within me?
I can only pray that hymn I sang in Sunday school as a child: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay… Come into my heart, Lord Jesus!”