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Nov 14, 2014

The Trouble with Mary & Martha



i've never particularly liked the story of mary and martha.  probably because i can totally relate to martha, and yet mary is the one jesus praises.  it always feels a little like he's chastising me when he says "mary has chosen what is better" (luke 10:42).

truthfully, i feel bad for martha!  she was just trying to be a good hostess after all.  i'd do the same.  the meal needed to be prepared, the table to be set, she probably had to tidy up a little bit.  she had opened her home not to just any guy, but the lord...and i'm sure she wanted to make a good impression.

earlier this week, i attended an influence network class about hospitality taught by annie downs.  we talked a little bit about mary and martha, and her perspective changed that story for me.  you see, everyone wants to be invited in.  we've all been there...maybe you've been the new girl hoping for a friend or maybe you've seen the new girl and felt the tug to include her.  and when it comes to mary and martha, the reality is that things do need to get done.

but, in the wise words of annie, you can't keep working for people to be invited in,  if you keep washing the dishes or clearing the table, everyone else is going to feel like they need to be working too or not be included.

i don't know abut you, but i was raised to always offer to help.  and so, when i go to a party or gathering and the host stands up to start the clean-up process, my instinct is to pitch in.  and when i'm the host, i will often begin cleaning up when my guests are still around the table.

don't get me wrong...i think the conversations that happen at the sink, with one person washing dishes and another drying, can be life-giving and relationship-forming.  my mom will tell you that she bonded with her sisters-in-law over sinks full of dirty dishes after family gatherings.  and watching them in the kitchen (and joining them) is now one of my favorite things about those family dinners.

but when we look deeper at the story of mary and martha, it's not just about doing work versus sitting at the table and spending time with others.  martha comes to jesus, with mary at his feet, asking him to send her sister to help her prepare the meal.  she was so worried by the work to be done that she couldn't see the importance in what her sister had chosen.

and when i examine my own heart, it's here that i can relate the most to martha.  because often, when i'm standing at that kitchen sink and there are people at the table who haven't offered to help, my heart turns bitter.  thoughts of "why aren't they helping?" and "can't they see what work needs to be done?" run through my mind.

true hospitality is an issue of the heart.  it's not enough to just open your doors and invite people into your home.  no matter how pinterest-perfect and carefully planned a gathering is, making people feel welcome goes beyond a picturesque table setting and a delicious dinner followed by warm cups of coffee.

in reality, it doesn't matter how well you prepare, what people will remember is how well you cared.

there's beauty in sharing your home and your food.  impact in being generous with your money and your time.  inviting people into your life, no matter how messy and imperfect it may be at times, is worth it.

but it can be so much better, so much more impactful, so much more beautiful, if you "choose what is better."
choose the conversation over the task list.
choose to listen when the dishes are screaming at you.
choose to include people in the relationship instead of the work. 

i'm not sure that the story of mary and martha will ever not make me feel uncomfortable.  and that's probably the point.  because for me, it's easy to see the work to be done and do it.  it stretches me more to make the small talk and ask the good and hard questions.  but washing dishes isn't what jesus asks us to do.  he asks us to take the time to see the need, to see the person, and to be his hands and feet.

what about you?  do you identify more with mary or martha?

16 comments:

  1. I am a Martha girl! I am horrible about trying to clean up and running around making sure everything is done! I have been trying really hard the last couple of times we have had guests to just let the "work" be done later, just sit and be with our guests!
    Thanks for a great post!

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  2. Gah I just started the she reads truth hospitality plan and it is some hard stuff. I love your reflection on this and can totally relate. Praying for a shift of our hearts to choose the better :)

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  3. Eek, I'm so glad to see this post, Betsy! I loved everything about this post all the way up to the very end when you said, "it stretches me more to make the small talk and ask the good and hard questions". That got me right in the heart because I am the exact same way. I'm definitely a Martha but I'm working on being more of a Mary. Love you, Bets!

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  4. This is so truthful! Something I constantly wrestle with! Thanks for sharing :)

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  5. I am with you on this. And I need to do the Influence Membership. I wonder though if I do it now...are the classes you get done annually or on your renewal date? If it would be better to wait until January? I don't know...I should probably ask lol

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  6. Nope! They're done monthly. They are just one-time workshop classes so each month there are a few to pick from and they send you a promo code to sign up for one free!

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  7. This is so so good Betsy! Thanks for sharing your heart in this way.

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  8. Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My "Martha" instincts always crop up and this was a good reminder to slow down and enjoy.

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  9. I'm totally a Martha too! I actually wrote a blog post about the sisters a while ago that I think you'd love! Studying the passage has really shown me that it's not the doing that Jesus is correcting, it's Martha's heart.

    http://www.simplemomentsstick.com/2013/05/martha-and-me.html
    http://www.simplemomentsstick.com/2013/05/martha-and-me-part-2.html

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  10. I'm with you, that's why I've never liked this story either. I'm always Martha. And I absolutely start cleaning while people are still around. You're right though, there's definitely something to be said about cleaning dishes with friends and family. As for being Mary - I'll work on it... I guess the holiday season will be a good time to practice.

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  11. That's an interesting perspective. But, I've always compared it to the two sisters in Sense and Sensibility. The older is more like Martha and the younger is more like Mary--a dreamer. There are strengths and weaknesses to both

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  12. I love what you have to say about this! I have a personal experience that ruined a friendship over this kind of situation. Thank you for sharing i like your perspective on it.

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  13. Such a good perspective. I also want things to be perfect, or to look perfect, when inviting people over. Mainly because I want to create a cozy, warm place for people to feel comfortable, including myself. It's so easy to get caught up in that, that I forget that other things such as just sitting and talking and waiting to do the dishes, can be just as good and life-giving, if not more. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  14. Yes, yes, yes! I've been pondering this story as well, and you really put what I have been thinking into words.

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  15. I absolutely LOVE this. I am a Martha as well.

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  16. This is AMAZING. I love this perspective. Definitely feeling convicted!

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Hi! Thanks for reading! I read every comment posted here. Your thoughts are valuable to me! Thanks for taking the time to contribute!

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