Remember the story of Martha and Mary? Where Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet and Martha is scrambling around trying to get a hundred things done? Martha finally comes in and you can just feel the annoyance dripping off her words: “Jesus, tell Mary to get up and help me and not just sit around doing nothing!”
To be honest, the first time I read this passage as a kid, I thought Mary must have been pulling a “me.” You know, find Dad and hang out with him so you don’t have to get up and help get dinner ready. Now I know that’s not at all what Mary was intending, but there’s still a part of me that gets a little mad when I read this passage.
That’s because I’m cheering for Martha at this point, and I too am annoyed at Mary. I’m like, “God, there was seriously so much to do! At least 12 dudes are invading their little home. That’s a lot of people to cook and clean for! Tell Mary to get up and help already! Or better yet, why didn’t you and the guys and Mary all go help?”
But what does Jesus say? Not what I wanted Him to say:
“Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage, and I’ve started wondering if maybe in that moment, Martha lost sight of how huge God was.
This happens to me a lot, especially when anxiety takes over my mind. My problems start to feel so huge, and God starts to feel so small.
Do I forget that Jesus turned five loaves and two fish into dinner for thousands? Because if I remembered that, I wouldn’t be stressing over dinner.
Do I forget that at the end of the day, what’s most important are relationships with God and others? Because if I remembered that, I’d realize some things can be left undone for the sake of loving others.
I can work hard while focusing on how huge my worries appear…or I can work hard while remembering how huge God is.
I can try to rest but just worry about what else needs to be done…or I can rest while remembering how huge God is.
I think we all have a little of Martha and a little of Mary in us. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
All through Scripture we are told of the benefits of hard work, like these examples:
- Be diligent instead of lazy (Proverbs 6:6-11 and 12:24).
- Go out of your way to help other people (James 1:27, Genesis 24:10-21).
- Don’t grow weary in doing good (Galatians 5:9).
I’ve always thought of this as the Martha part of me—doing diligent, hard work that takes seriously God’s call to care for other people. And that’s a good quality to have.
And then we see throughout Scripture the other side of the same coin being praised: the worshiper, the Mary side. Here’s one example from David: “I want to dwell in the house of the Lord every day of my life” (Psalm 27:4 and 84:10). This is the part of me that craves to be aware of Jesus with me in every moment of every day.
We need a little Martha AND a little Mary in us. But we need them in balance.
You see, I think we live in Martha homes and businesses and even churches—places and ministries that ask for all of us. We think, Well, I can rest someday in heaven. I’d better use all my time on earth wisely. So we put aside our own physical, God-given limits (such as needing space to mentally process, sleep, eat and be alone with God and our loved ones) and try to become superheroes. But Jesus is the only superhero.
I tend to think that when we cross into bitterness (like the annoyance in Martha’s tone), that’s a sign that something is off in our lives.
So maybe when I start feeling bitter, like I’m giving more than I have to give, that’s when I need to stop “cleaning and cooking,” and be okay with some unfinished work and an imperfect house. To steal away and “sit with Jesus,” and spend time with people who energize me.
If we ignore the limits God has given us, we will burn out. And if we’re running on empty, we need to pay attention to that, because it’s a clue that something is wrong. It’s a clue that we’re worried about many things…when only one thing is needed.
So what does this mean for me? Here’s what I’ve been thinking:
Maybe I need to clear out some space in my schedule to spend more time with God. Put aside my phone and to-do list to be fully present with a friend in need. Be okay with an imperfect home and unfinished tasks if that’s what it takes to love someone else. Even more, why not practice an awareness of God’s presence, knowing He’s with me in every moment of every day—whether I’m working or resting?
It doesn’t mean I stop being responsible or never work again. It just means I listen. And when He calls me away, I come.