I identify with Martha.
That might seem odd, in that I am a man, but I think I do.
I’m not talking about any sort of gender identity crisis, mind you. Rather, as I was taking care of many details around my home today (which I find myself doing quite often) I was reminded of the story of Martha (and Mary). You know it already, but it’s short. Let’s read it together:
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her, “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.” – Luke 10:38-42 NLT
So, you feel like complaining that your sister isn’t doing enough of the work? No. She does plenty of work.
You’re tired out from having so much to do? Yes… but, no.
I think sometimes it seems like that’s the point of this story: relaxing with Jesus > house work. Don’t worry about serving, cleaning, feeding, or any of the other ways one might be hospitable. The most important thing is to just sit down and listen to Jesus.
While it may not be the main point, that is at its core true.
And I’m just not sure that Martha’s stinky attitude was the point of that story, either.
So today, while sweeping the floor, after starting a second load of dishes and cleaning up the lunch I had prepared for my son and his friends, as well as my father- and mother-in-law, I thought of a different way that I am like Martha.
It is not atypical for me to be serving others. It’s almost entirely what I do. Nearly every minute of my life is spent doing something that is essentially or entirely for someone else. That is honestly how I prefer it, and perhaps (I believe) how I am made to be. I don’t want attention on me, I love to do work that makes others feel loved. I would guess that is a gift of hospitality, but I’m definitely the kitchen staff, not the wait staff. Behind the scenes is where I thrive.
You probably think that is odd if you know me from any public forum. I am certainly able to be on the stage, or bare my heart and mind through words published or sung. But that, too, is never for me. (At times, this blog is “for me” in that I do process thoughts as I write. But I still prefer to deflect any attention directed toward me.)
But Jesus said, “There is only one thing to be concerned about.” Again, does he mean don’t worry about the dishes, or the dog hair all over the floor? Or the trash can overflowing with smelly food trash? Leave that moldy cheese right where it is, because that is not the one thing to be concerned about!
I don’t think so.
How I identify with Martha is that I forget to enjoy life. Not on purpose. I’m not avoiding joy, nor life. Again, not purposefully. However, Mary welcomed Jesus by giving herself to him. Listening to him. Enjoying him. Martha only wanted to serve him, make him feel welcome, give of herself to him, too, I’m sure. But she, like me, often defaults to spending herself for others rather then bringing herself to them.
I am definitely guilty of that.
As I ponder this thought, considering what could change so that I might find the one important thing, like Mary did, there are many options. A more concerted effort to be together with other believers? More time with my kids while they are young, and my wife, whom I love? What about spending time writing, which I have entirely abandoned. (Mostly because, as Martha knew, there is so much to do!)1
So, I will read. I will be quiet. I will talk with Jesus. I will listen for him. I will look for ways I can give myself (not what I do) to him—and to you.
That is what matters. And I think, what Jesus said in that moment, is true for us, too: it will not be taken away.
I may identify with Martha, but my identity is in Jesus.
Now, pardon me, as I sit down for a while and spend some time with him. (You can help yourself to whatever you’d like from the fridge.)
- Footnote: I am not certain whether I will pick up my pen regularly again. My life is no less full this week than it has been for many months, and even years now. But as I thought to write down the thoughts running through my head today, I did consider that could be a way for me to sit at Jesus’ feet. Then again, it could just be another Martha thought (something I can do for him, and you). No promises, for sure. ↩