I’ve been feeling run down lately. Sick. Headaches, blurred vision, and extremely lethargic – unlike myself. I knew something was going on when I came home after work one night and went to sleep for 12 hours. Something wasn’t right. This got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking. It wasn’t my high blood pressure. It wasn’t stress. I was too busy. I am always ripping and running. Scheduling. Cleaning. Cooking. Daydreaming. In realizing the things that I was doing, I realized the things that I wasn’t doing: reading my Bible, praying, talking with God, and watering my relationship with Jesus (we all know that when we don’t water something, it dies). Thinking about Mary and Martha, I realize today that God was trying to tell me something and it took a month of me feeling ill to get it through my thick skull: there’s a time to be a Martha and there’s a time to be a Mary.
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10: 38-42 NIV).
“Few things are needed – indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better.” What a powerful Word. Here Martha is running around in an attempt to make everyone comfortable, but she has in a way forsaken her company with busy work. What is the point of inviting someone into one’s home when one has no time to spend with him or her? Mary on the other hand soaks up Jesus’ presence by intently listening without distraction or a care in the world. As we grow in a relationship with Jesus and an understanding of who he is we must realize that life as a Christian is about balance. We have jobs, children, responsibilities, volunteer work, husbands, wives, pets, etc., but we also have ministries, church duties, and seminary schooling. Sometimes we try to do it all and end up spreading ourselves out so thin that none of what we produce yields quality fruit. Sometimes we need to get back to the basics, which are praise and worship, reading the Bible, prayer, and placing the highest responsibilities first.
Also, as we are discussing Mary vs. Martha, this idea is not strictly for women in Christ but also men in Christ. As people in the body of Christ, we are called to put Christ first in all things. The distinction made between the “Mary” type and “Martha” type isn’t a bad thing or something that we shouldn’t embody. It’s more of a differentiation between the two sides of one Christian as we are to spend time with him and to get to work for him, but in all this we should refrain from allowing the cares of this world or the concerns of life to take priority over following Jesus. We are told in the Bible many times to be sure that we remain unstained by this world. To do this means that we should continue to be worry-free, anxiety-free, and carefree, but I know by experience that this isn’t easy and that sometimes we fall prey to these worldy traits. When we take on too much in life we sometimes become worried or distracted by many things and may be missing out on opportunities that God has for service and blessings, like Martha. When we try to do it all, we take away his glory and exhaust ourselves and get into the “I, I, I” worldy frame of mind. It’s okay to take a sober look at this.
Maybe you feel like you are always doing all the work and maybe that Jesus doesn’t care about your situation. Or perhaps you may not be listening to Jesus’ instructions, instead making up your own along the way or trying to debate God’s will for you. Martha could also be stuck in the kitchen or out mowing the lawn while others are pouring out their worship on Jesus, but she works hard for him, to please him and he loves her, he can count on Martha to get the job done. In the same vain as Christians we do not have to earn the love of Christ by showing him how much work we are doing for him, it’s already there, and he showed us by enduring the cross. But the very foundation of our relationship with him grows when we spend time with him and in essence bathe in his glory. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a “Martha” type, but as we are working hard, we may be more focused on the action of the work rather than the purpose. As Christians we all struggle with this. You are not alone. We must learn to keep it simple.
As we are discussing Mary vs. Martha, this idea is not strictly for women in Christ but also men in Christ.Kelli Ward
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12 1-3 NIV).
We always see Mary at Jesus’s feet. I once heard Bishop Charles E. Blake say that a woman’s hair is her glory so Mary placed her glory at Jesus’s feet. She doesn’t worry about today or tomorrow but has her first priority, which is praise-time for Jesus. Imagine being stress free because your day is focused on pleasing the Savior over pleasing others. It’s possible. It says it in the Bible that he will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him. Just because we are at work doesn’t mean we can’t praise him on our lunch break. In our modern day world you may see Mary as having no direction. She may seem like a loser, a hippie, lazy, and maybe even unmotivated. Someone who doesn’t know the value of hard work like Martha does. But this isn’t true. Mary knew how to “hang out,” in other words she knew how to a) get the work done with efficiency, b) not let over-prioritizing/planning consume her day, and c) let the work stack up and kick-it with Jesus.
A woman named J.M. Price says, “I am more like Martha post marriage and kids. I am literally running behind my husband and kids all the time caring for them. I seldom take or make the time to just sit with Jesus. Even when I am at church I often times am not able to simply listen because I am mothering my kids. Pre-marriage and kids, I was more like Mary. I went to church and Bible study pretty consistently. I prayed, read my word and fasted much more often as well. It is interesting to me that at a point in my life when I have so much on my plate, I am not fighting more to spend quality time with Jesus. Now, the time I spend with him is always while I’m doing something else. For instance, now I pray in the car while driving or while in the shower. I may read my Bible while having my lunch at work. I called into a prayer line on a Saturday morning and felt bad that I wasn’t with my kids. At the end of the day, I know that if I make time to be more like Mary on a consistent basis, I will be more effective and have a better attitude when I have to be like Martha.”
The above insight is relevant. Many of us are a combination of Mary and Martha and again this isn’t a bad thing. It’s often a reality as there are two sides to every Christian. When blending the two distinct personalities together the outcome is a balanced life with a focused work ethic, family life, prayer life, and overall healthy life. Being too busy or having too little work to do seems to often leave us worn out, bored even, unfruitful, and idle (which starts to eat away at your mind, leaving your thoughts to wonder into some not-so-good places at times). Balance means to be of equal weight. As we are all called to put Jesus first we must remember that he also calls us to be missionaries and the mission or ministry we are called to must be financed which means he calls us to work. He also calls us to be on the mission field at our jobs and in our homes. If we are too tired and subsequently cranky or too ho-hum about life, how are we to show others how great our God is with effectiveness?
Now you may be saying that it’s impossible to be like Mary all the time – this is true, especially in today’s world that moves at such a fast pace. But we can make strides to be like Mary and put Martha on the coat rack for a while as well as to hang up Mary and put on Martha. In Mary Southerland’s book entitled Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry: Success and Survival for Every Woman Who Serves God she outlines habits that need to form in order for the women (this also applies to men) of God to go the distance for him in Spirit and in truth. In the chapter “Relish Godly Discipline,” she lists six ways to prioritize our lives for ministry (and day-to-day living):
Just as we budget our money we must budget our time. Schedule one day a week to plan out your week – stick with that plan.
Once a month have a “spring cleaning”. Eliminate anything that is hurting you or your family. You may need to eliminate unimportant things to spend time with those you love.
Learn to leave the “lesser” things undone. Employ God’s priorities, not yours. You are not Superwoman. Ask yourself the questions: Does it really matter? Is it eternal? Does it impact lives for God?
Find your team and include all of them in the work.
Give up on perfection, it is meant for Heaven not Earth. The “further we get from simple things, the further we get from God.” – An Amish saying.
If home and family are only left with scraps of our time, energy, and emotions, we are walking in sin and disobedience. Home is our greatest mission field.
I collected a few responses to the question, are you Mary or Martha or a combination of both?
Samantha Jeudy says, “Well personally I think I’m like Martha, and I strive to be like Mary. When life is going good and there’s nothing bad going on that you need to pray about, you tend to get caught up with our own thing and neglect Jesus. One of the things that I have to work on is spending time with Him everyday no matter what’s going on in my life. Making sure I put him before everything and finding time to worship everyday. It’s not easy especially with our work schedules, friends, and family but I really strive to be like Mary and going to him humbly so that I can learn more from him and his Word.”
Let’s drop the misconception that slowing down and doing nothing means you’re lazy – it doesn’t. It means you value peace, play-time, and good health.Kelli Ward
Elder Richard Brooks says, “In brief, if you will notice the disciples first heard what Jesus had to say and then went to put it into practice. The case of Mary and Martha was that Martha was concerned about natural things (cleaning the house, fixing the food etc.) all of this while Jesus was sharing his message. There is nothing to indicate that he had any intention of repeating what he was saying. That is the message, we must hear God while or when he is speaking, not when we finish what we are doing.”
Helena P. Fils says, “I am definitely like Martha. I am always running around, cooking and cleaning. I just prefer to stay busy. This is how I do my best thinking and reflecting. This time is therapeutic for me. Not that I have family that I am doing this all for, but I find it relaxes me. I would like to be more like Mary, but I’m just not there yet. As I pray for a greater understanding of God’s Word, perhaps I will be able to sit still and read, but until then…”
Phillip Olive says, “I think that the heart of the story is the formation of priorities. Mary put time with Jesus ahead of anything else. While Jesus was present, Martha decided to busy herself with other matters. In the Biblical accounts of Jesus spending time with people, he often would tell people what to do. Listen to this, go do this, pray, eat. People who were given even the simplest direction by Jesus were audibly hearing the will of God for them in the moment, something present-day Christians always say that they long for. If he had told Martha to prepare a meal, she would have been right in doing so. But if she wasn’t given any direction by Jesus, with a choice between busyness and being with Jesus, she chose the lesser of the two. My struggle, everyone’s struggle, is deciding to continually put time with Jesus first. Does he get our leftover time and attention or does he get the best of them? He is with us in spirit, so we always have access to him, but our job is to place him as our top priority instead of taking his nearness for granted.”
Does [Jesus] get our leftover time and attention or does he get the best of them?Phillip Olive
We are not alone in this fight, and it is a fight. Let’s also drop the misconception that slowing down and doing nothing means you’re lazy–it doesn’t. It means you value peace, play-time, and good health. After understanding why I was sick, I made a commitment to slow down, relax, and be go-with-the-flow and to read the Bible everyday. First starting with one chapter, then prayerfully reading two, three, and so on. I also am focusing my prayer life on praising rather than asking. I am beginning with 10 minutes of prayer every morning and night. During the first seven minutes I thank God for being who he is, giving him the glory in all things. For the last three minutes I lay the issues of my heart at Jesus’s feet. We can take steps even if they are baby ones to find a balance of Mary and Martha in our lives. “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (John 6:27, NIV).
Commit this scripture to your heart. For the next time you are tuckered out and overworked, too tired to spend quality time with God, recite this scripture and think on Martha who overworked herself for Jesus, and then Mary who abandoned everything to curl up at his feet.
Christopher Scott says
Thanks for this great article, Kelly. We all need to read this and be reminded to slow down and take time for God.