Have you ever wanted to be like a character in the Bible — like Moses parting the Red Sea, Noah building an amazing ark and surviving a world-wide flood, David slaying Goliath, or Joseph sitting at the right hand of Pharaoh? Such noble men with hearts for God. It all sounds pretty awesome until you realize you’ve acted very much like a Biblical figure, but one who is admonished rather than praised.
The story in Luke 10:38–42 recounts Jesus and his disciples being welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha. Eager to serve the Lord, Martha is busy preparing a meal and tending to all the party details. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, just sits and chats away with Jesus. A frustrated Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her with the meal and even states that it’s unfair that the burden of preparation has fallen on her shoulders. Much to her surprise, Jesus responds, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (NLT) Ouch.
I have known this story most of my life, but it wasn’t until I started hosting people in my own home that the message was truly understood.
I have always been a Martha, never a Mary.
I love having people over. I enjoy the meal planning, table setting, and even the house cleaning leading up to a visit. As soon as someone arrives, I make sure they are comfortable, have a beverage, etc. Then always in the back of my mind are thoughts of what’s next?
The side dish needs to go in the oven in 10 minutes.
Oh, while we are chatting, I can clean the dishes in the sink.
Don’t forget to refresh everyone’s drink before we sit down to eat.
Fix the pillows on the couch before we move to the dining room.
There is always something to do. Always something to tidy up and perfect. Like Martha, I fret and stew over the details and fail to pause and enjoy the company. I’ve always justified that I am still “in the moment” because our kitchen is fully open to our living room and it’s easy to work and talk at the same time. But the reality is, my attention is diverted and I really can’t do two things at once effectively. The other aspect is that staying on top of things plays into my need for things to be perfect—and, in turn, my drive to be accepted. It becomes all about me and not about who is in my home.
I need to take a lesson out of Mary’s playbook.
Ken and I are fortunate enough to live in the same city as his brother and sister-in-law. We try to get together as often as we can, and we take turns hosting. During our last gathering at their home, I noticed how my sister-in-law fully embodied Mary. She invited us to help ourselves to whatever we liked, and then joined us on the couch. She quickly engaged in conversation without a single worry about the details of the evening. In fact, when it was time for dinner, THAT was when she set the table — not ahead of time. What? It blew my mind.
My sister-in-law is like Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet just listening and bonding with her guests. The whole evening was so comfortable, relaxed, and easy-going. I always leave her home feeling refreshed. While I am always so focused on the details and timing, I wonder if things are always as tense in my home for my guests as they are for me.
Just because I have always been Martha, doesn’t mean Mary can’t come out.
Over Memorial Day weekend, we had family over. I was determined to put Martha aside and bring out my inner Mary. I am a planner, so I had as much prepared and ready to go in advance as I possibly could — I actually find a lot of joy in the pre-festivities. Before my guests ever walked through the door, I made a decision that I was going to focus on the people, not the party and not my insecurities.
I was very proud of myself. I sat on the couch a lot. In fact, I even forgot I needed to cook something as part of the meal! The time together meant so much more because I was zoned in on the conversation instead of worrying about the dirty plates in the sink and the food sitting out on the counter. Everything would be there after they left. And these days, time spent with loved ones is precious and far between. I also felt a sense of peace throughout the evening. Letting go of my perfectionistic concerns allowed me to really be in the moment and relax.
I don’t ever want to miss Jesus because I am drowning in the details.
I know that my Martha-tendencies spill over to many areas of my life, and at times, I miss Jesus in the moment because I have prioritized something less important above Him. A messy stove, pillows everywhere, water droplets on the bathroom mirror — none of that matters if I am sacrificing my relationships. I have always said that when it comes to eternal life, we can’t take our “stuff” with us, but we will be in Heaven with other people — it’s all about relationships. All Jesus wanted was for Martha to stop worrying about the “stuff” and spend time with Him. We don’t have the privilege of sitting at Jesus’ actual feet, but we have the gift of spending time with people, His people, while we are here on earth. No amount of obsessing-over-party-details will ever replace the time spent with another human being.
Marys, be patient with us Marthas as we learn to slow our roll. Please continue to show us the beauty of being still.
And Marthas, it’s okay that the Marys are just chillaxin’. It’s not that they don’t care, they just know it’s okay to sit down.
Maybe, in the end, we can all learn from each other.