By Ann Boyd
Sometimes it feels like all the responsibilities land on your shoulders: you’re the only one capable enough or specially-equipped to do the work. There are times when that is true, and there are times when it’s not, and there are times when those responsibilities…well, they don’t strictly need to be done by the day’s end. Let’s see how this situation shakes out for Martha.
As always, let’s begin with the text:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10.38-42 (NRSV)
The crumbs aren’t going away yet.
Does Anyone Care?
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” There is so much in that question: the pain of overwork, a sense of bearing the burden alone, the grief over the way others do not feel the urgency of the tasks. Martha’s assumption is that her priorities are the right ones, and her indignation comes from the exasperated realization that no one else cares quite as much as she does.
This is a place of struggle for me. I’m the one who experiences distress over crumbs on the floor and toys scattered in living areas. Little Barbie shoes. Stray socks. Stacks of incoming mail. Deflated balloons. The rest of my family knows that living in a state of disorder is not ideal, and they will participate in clean-up when asked, but none of them experience the same visceral discomfort over a cluttered living space that I do. “Do you not care?”
The fact is, they don’t really care — and that has to be okay. I marvel at the gift my husband — who is quite orderly — has in being able to sit and read while the chaos of blanket-forts rages around him. The children can zero in on one elaborate toy, playing happily while disregarding the piles of discarded playthings around them.
I am not this way. I used to be this way, as a child and young adult. My room looked perpetually as if a tornado had blown through, and our home pre-children would never have passed the white glove test. But it seems that becoming a mother has unleashed in me a constant demand for order. The dishes must be done by the end of the night. The laundry really should be folded. Has the table been set? Remember to feed the cats. Make sure the coffee is set up for the morning routine. And while we’re at it, let’s get another load of whites in the wash before going to bed.
Once the domestic tasks are handled satisfactorily (by some miracle), there is always extra on the work front: another article to edit, another piece to write, another email to answer, another book to read. Juggle all those balls in the air efficiently because you just read an article about the importance of getting enough sleep. Hurry up and relax!
My compulsion to get things done is useful, frankly. It helps our household run more smoothly. I tend to meet my deadlines. But there are times when I need to release it. Taking a weekly Sabbath is helping me, especially when I take an hour to read even though the dust bunnies are thriving in the corner — no matter, cleaning day is coming up and now is the time to sit. There are times when it is best to cuddle with the children without straightening the piles. There are moments when it is better to listen carefully to Jon’s reflections on his reading than to sweep the floor. There are times when I need to pray instead of working. Now is the time to be with Jesus.
Martha and I struggle in this together. The work is good, and I feel a little bit better when it is done. But the trick is knowing the right time. My life and the life of my family is better in reality (not just in my own head) when I can yield myself to God and follow his lead in the priorities of the hour. Not easy — but definitely worthwhile.
Where am I saying “Does anyone care?”
What, in this situation, does Jesus care about?
Is this the right time for a task? Or is now a better time to focus on a person?
This piece comes to us from The Well, and was originally published as part of a series of twelve reflections on the story of Mary and Martha at Ann’s blog. If you’d like to read the whole series, start with the first post, where they are listed in full at the end of the piece. Copyright 2014 Ann Boyd. Used with permission.
Previous posts in this series: