Cover image: “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha”, by Johannes Vermeer.
I’ve heard, over the years, Christians (mostly moms) wonder aloud if they are, a “Martha”. They rarely wonder if they were like Martha, who has, for many, ceased to become a real Jewish woman who lived in Bethany a few thousand years ago. Martha has become an idea, or a “spirit” that people use as a means of self-identification (i.e., “the attitude or intentions with which someone undertakes or regards something.“¹). Martha is someone we should definitely not be happy to find our name attached to – as in, “You’re being such a Martha!”
As women (rarely men) wonder if they are truly being “a Martha”, it is usually during a time in which making the schedule work trying to juggling a devotional life, family life, and a professional life. A woman who is doing too much often feels like a failure at all that she is attempting to put her hands to. The most intense and personal of all of those kinds of failures is the failure to prioritize time in prayer and the word. While the others areas may spark feelings of frustration and helplessness, feelings of failure in this area usually invites a sense of real loss and regret. Authentic, deep spirituality and a sincere desire to love Jesus well can form the deepest core values a sincere Christian can hold. A betrayal of these core values, therefore, can feel like a betrayal of self as well as a profound disappointment to God.
Are You Really a “Martha”?
Before deciding that you are, in fact, a “Martha”, we should first look at what Martha actually did to receive her very mild corrective from Jesus. The real story from Luke 10:38-42 is well-known: Jesus comes to town, and begins teaching in the house of Martha and Mary. Mary, wanting to hear, presses past the “to-do” list that accompanies hosting such a famous guest; Martha becomes upset at having to serve alone. Jesus gently corrects Martha, showing her that, in fact, Mary had chosen wisely. Martha, however, was worried and troubled with many things, and therefore missed the “one thing” that was needed.
The “one thing”, of course, was prioritizing Jesus and His teaching and not elevating tasks that cause one to miss the beauty of the moment. The beauty of the moment is the point of the story: the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God, and the fulfillment of every Jewish hope and longing had come. In fact, He was in Martha’s very home. When the fulfillment of all prophetic scripture – the express image of the invisible God made flesh – walks into your living room, you may want to drop everything and hear what He has to say. The best modern analogy that one could muster would be to imagine a historic revival breaking into the Bible study taking place in your living room. Meanwhile, you are frustrated because your kitchen is a mess. Friend, if this happens to you: leave the dishes, run to the living room.
Of course, someone and something far beyond historic revival had walked into Martha’s living room on that fateful day. In modern language, one could note that she was in danger of missing the hour of her visitation.
Understanding the degree to which Martha was distracted hopefully puts our own distraction in right perspective. There is, in other words, a great chasm between a day of too many diapers, too many meetings, too much exhaustion from the demands of life and God Incarnate having a Bible study in your den that you are too busy to attend. In that sense, Mary is not that heroic or amazing (her finest hour would come later, just before Christ was crucified). Rather, Martha was really that worried, really that troubled.
True Grace for the Busy One
I want to affirm today that I doubt that you are that worried or troubled. In fact, the pain of your heart that is telling you that you may be a “Martha” is actually indicating the opposite. Rather than being so dull and disconnected that you have forgotten the possibilities of grace and the indwelling Holy Spirit, your heart aches for more of Jesus though your body is weary and your schedule is full. It is because you are longing to press past the “to-do” list and sit at the feet of Jesus that you are wondering if you are like Martha. Which makes you, ironically, very “un-Martha-like” as it relates to the account itself.
The very longing to set it all aside and embrace the “one thing that is needed” is the evidence of the grace of God on your life, today. The desire to spend more time with Jesus in prayer, more time in His word, and more time enjoying your salvation indicates a heart that is experiencing a measure of the promised life and power that comes with being in Christ. The secret, when those longings touch your heart to various degrees, is to simply stop for a minute and ask Him for help. It may be help in simplifying your schedule. It may be help in ordering your life better so that you can find more time to pray. It may be help to follow through on the initial desires that are moving your heart to love Him more.
The longing to be like Mary and prioritize loving and hearing Jesus is the grace for spiritual hunger that no amount of money can buy, and no outward behavior can produce. It is the evidence that Jesus loves you, is fighting for you, and is gently leading and moving you towards real changes that will both satisfy and increase your desires to know Him more. There is a rest and a peace that can come to us in the busyness and demands of life, both at work and at home. The rest and peace that comes is the joy that knowing that, as we are diligent in following through with our real responsibilities, Jesus is far more diligent in praying, serving, and empowering us to grow in love for Him. We can take every opportunity throughout the day to connect with Him in small ways, thank Him for what He is doing, and ask Him to do more in our hearts and lives.
It really is that simple.
The next time, then, that you wonder if you are a Martha, ask the Lord to show you the areas of your heart where you are so worried and troubled that you are ignoring the grace of God in your life. Ask Him to help you see where you are forgetting that you enjoy union with Christ. Ask Him to remind you that an infinite fire that burns within you called the indwelling Spirit of God. Ask Him to show you again what the endless possibilities of grace offer us in experiencing His love and loving Him back. Finally, smile for just a moment and remember that He is the best in the universe at helping busy, distracted people remember that He is worthy. Then, go back to missing Him and longing for more of Him in your life.
¹Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English.