At the Home of Martha and Mary:
He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the his feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” he answered, “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.”
I have always been fascinated by the story of Martha and Mary. One reason may be my grandma’s name was Martha. Just like Martha in the story, you would often find her toiling in the kitchen and home. Unlike Martha in the story, I never heard her raise her voice against others who were not.
I must confess, a long time ago I viewed myself as a Martha. The women in my family are role models for hard work and perfectionism. For years I wondered why I was working so hard while others seemed oblivious about all that needed to be done. I thought this story was guiding me to be more like Mary (who seemed to have her priorities straight) rather than Martha who did not. I was having a hard time moving from being a Martha to a Mary.
I have since interpreted this story to be about giving of ourselves freely. When we choose to do something, we need to give with our whole heart, no strings attached. If Martha was unable to make the preparations on her own without being upset she should have sat down and enjoyed that moment herself. Eventually, Mary and the others would either help with the preparations or do without. I am guessing nobody would have cared if the house was perfect and if someone had been upset, it was not Martha’s fault.
I remember the day I shared this perspective with my daughter. She was on her high school prom decorating committee setting up the gym on Friday night and Saturday morning. Late Friday she came home very upset. It seemed a few of the teens were doing most of the work while most of the teens were goofing off and having fun. Guess which group my daughter was in.
Sitting next to her on the couch I said, “This is your Martha and Mary moment. It seems you have a choice tomorrow. Either decorate because that is what you are willing to do or stop worrying about all the preparations and enjoy the moment with all of the other kids. The choice is yours.”
The next afternoon my daughter came home smiling. When she got to the gym that morning she found herself in the exact same predicament as the night before but this time, she thought about what she was willing to do. She slowed down her pace, chose the tasks she wanted to do and started to have some fun. Other girls followed her lead and soon the gym was full of young people having a wonderful time. And the gym decorating? Eventually it was completed by everyone chipping in to help.
So, life is about choices. Giving our gifts and time freely when we can, learning to say “no” when we are unable to do that. Some days I am Martha. Some days I am Mary. Every day I am looking for the balance between helping others and taking care of myself.