Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What If You're Too Busy To Be Spiritual?

Whenever I'm sitting in church and the speaker brings up Mary and Martha, I start to get antsy and look for the nearest exit.

I'd never be one to say I hate any passage of scripture  but if I was, I'd definitely hate the Mary and Martha story.

In Luke 10: 38-42, Mary and Martha host Jesus at their house. While Mary is sitting at his feet listening to Jesus teach, Martha is doing all the food prep and serving by herself.

I can just imagine her getting more and more frustrated until she bursts out, exasperated, "Don't you care that I'm doing all this work alone? Tell Mary to help me!"

And Jesus responds:

"Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Well, then.

I've sat with my Bible open on my lap, seething as I read these verses, feeling more indignation than Martha herself probably did.

Because actually, I am Martha.

I spend all day, every day picking up and putting away a million things, shuttling kids to doctor's appointments, signing school forms, making meals, doing laundry, washing dishes, reminding kids to do homework and take showers...

To be told that all this work doesn't matter, that I just shouldn't worry about it, is a slap in the face. Not 'needful?' How about I stop buying diapers and we'll just see how needful it is?


The reason I got so mad at the Mary and Martha story was because it made me feel discouraged, depressed, and basically hopeless.

An incredible amount of administrative work goes into running a family, and no matter how much I want to be Mary, the fact is I still have to be a whole lot of Martha if we're all going to have clothes to wear and food to eat.

But after some thought and soul-searching, I've discovered something about the Mary and Martha story that changes everything.

It starts with looking at what Jesus actually said to Martha. Other than pointing out that Martha was "careful and troubled about many things" (i.e: conscientious and a tad stressed-out,) he didn't really say much about her or what she was doing at all.

He mostly talked about Mary. What, exactly, was Mary doing that was so great Jesus called it "the better part?"

I’ve always had trouble with the Bible story of Mary and Martha. It just seemed so unfair! Life is busy and I feel a lot like Mary most of the time. But the story teaches a different lesson than I thought it did, a lesson on timing and priorities for moms. #maryandmartha #bible #christian #latterdaysaint #priorities #motherhood #unremarkablefiles


I assume that ordinarily, Mary was not a deadbeat. I don't think Jesus would've condoned a life of lounging in a bubble bath with cucumber slices on your eyes while someone else bakes the bread and scrubs the floors. Mary was probably right in there with Martha 99% of the time.

But on this day, Mary recognized that if there was ever a good time to drop her ordinary chores for something more important, this was it.

Think about it: they had the Son of God sitting in their house teaching them about the things of eternity, and Martha (bless her heart) was preoccupied with the table linens!

Of course it's easy to criticize Martha for having her priorities all wrong, but how many times have I done the same sort of thing?

I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes when my family gathers for nightly scriptures and prayer, I'll miss some or all of it because I'm busy finishing up cleaning the kitchen.

In reality, the dishes can wait  not forever, but for a little while  while an important spiritual moment is going on. In ten minutes I can get back to them, but reading and praying with my family in that moment needs to take precedence.

The story of Mary and Martha, thank goodness, isn't an indictment against anyone who's ever mopped a floor or organized a closet or made a weekly meal plan.

It's a lesson in priorities. If we do the work inherent in life while reserving top priority for Jesus, even a hard-working Martha like me can start to become a little more like Mary.

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15 comments:

  1. Thank you for that insight! That story has always bothered me. Now, maybe the next time I hear it, I can be less grouchy! ;)

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  2. http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/920/ ... being a child of Martha isn't all bad. My personal spin on the story was that not everyone can multi-task. Attitude about the realm of service you are called to, matters. I would rather have a table to wipe or a toilet to clean than speak in church.

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  3. You make thoughtful and timely points.

    A few years ago a woman addressed this story in our stake women’s conference. She pointed out that this is possibly the most often misquoted scripture—as you wrote:

    “He mostly talked about Mary. What, exactly, was Mary doing that was so great Jesus called it ‘the better part’?”

    Most of us remember this phrase this way. But he never says “the better part”! He says “that good part.” He didn’t compare the sisters. In fact, he didn’t make any comment on their different choices until Martha asked him to get after Mary for hers. Even then, he didn’t compare. He said Martha was careful (not an insult, possibly even an acknowledgment of the good that she was doing), and his only admonition was that Martha not take Mary’s “good part” away from her. He may have been reiterating what you explain beautifully here: Martha and Mary both had their times of hard work as well as their times of quiet worship and reflection.
    The speaker encouraged us, as a takeaway from this story, not to compare ourselves or to criticize each other’s choices.

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    1. You know, I didn't even realize I had replace "good" with "better" until I read your comment and went back to re-read it! I guess your stake women's conference speaker was right on.

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  4. Perhaps there's guilt on both sides at times. Mary is usually talked about as the one who made the right choice. I'm a Mary and I still feel guilty because I worry that I'm not helping as much as I should or letting too many things go. This mostly makes me laugh, but I like how you made it a matter of priorities. We should always put the Savior first and everything will fall into place. :)

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  5. I’ve always felt guilty about being the “Mary” at family get togethers. Two of my sisters are constantly cleaning up and setting out food and cleaning up again, and I’m sure they are wondering why I’m just sitting and enjoying my other siblings and nieces and nephews. I do help clean, but I feel that it can wait until the excitement calms down. People are more important than things. But I also know that my had working sisters may have resentment so I feel bad. But I can’t help myself! Too many cooks and all that plays a part too.

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  6. Very thoughtful and good. I’ve felt indignant on Martha's behalf, too, and wondered how I can give myself “permission” to sit and be spiritual when there’s so much other stuff that needs doing. But you’re so right that that’s a choice I can make, and should!

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    1. I like things to be all or nothing (thanks, perfectionism) so it was kind of a revelation to me that I don't have to do that ALL the time, but SOME of the time, especially when something important is going on.

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    2. Loved this post!

      Also this is a great podcast for perfectionists https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/grit-n-grace-good-girls-breaking-bad-rules/id1121443054?mt=2

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  7. I love this, Jenny thanks!! I always got indignant on Martha's part too, AFTER I had a family to tend to!!
    When I was single, I never gave it a thought!

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    1. Yet another example of how the same scripture can speak to you differently depending on where you are in your life!

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  8. Thank you. This exact thing happened to me tonight as I found myself doing other things instead of participating in family scripture reading and prayer. I needed this reminder.

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  9. I love that you mentioned your angst with this passage, b/c I've struggled with the same exact thing! While I love the idea of being a "Mary" & being able to take time to dwell in His presence, the "Martha" things end up being left undone, only to cause more stress later. And I know the point is about balance, but I've always understood where Martha was coming from here!

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