When we lived in Singapore my women’s church group offered weekly bible study courses. One that caught my eye was titled “On Being a Martha”. Though in the end I chose a different seminar, I knew I needed that course. I still need that course.
The story of Mary, found in the book of Luke, is deceivingly simple. But for me, the type A woman, it packs a big punch.
Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, was a well-meaning woman who welcomed Jesus into her home and then scurried from task to task as her sister Mary sat at Jesus’s feet listening to his words and learning. (Luke 10:38-42)
Martha had trouble handling this division of labor - or lack thereof I should say. It infuriated her that her sister was, in her view, lazing about doing nothing while she was doing all the work preparing the home and food for their guest. She asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. I probably would have done the same.
Remarkably, Jesus did not tell Mary to help her sister. Instead he told Martha that she was worried about too many things and that Mary had actually chosen the best seat in the house.
Though I have struggled against the urge to be a Martha, I can be a pretty good one given the right circumstances. Take Friday for example. I was urgently trying to finish a pile of my parents’ insurance paper work when I learned my brother's family was coming to visit. Then my father called looking for his NY Times that didn’t get delivered that morning.
The mound of chores in front of me, and the limited time I had to do them in, suddenly overwhelmed me. My mind scurried from task to task: finish the insurance paperwork (already a two day project); clean the house for my imminent guests; and drive to one of the few NY Times vendors in Lexington, purchase the paper and deliver it to Dad (who consumed it each morning like a much needed dose of Prozac).
There was barely room in my body - in my life - to breathe.
Then my parents’ nurse called to touch base and the tears flooded out. She reminded me that nothing was an emergency and to take care of myself. I half-heartedly agreed, said good-bye and returned to my tasks.
A voice in my head tried to pull me back from my martyrdom but the Martha in me wouldn’t let it. I mean who was going to handle all this if I didn’t? How did I have time to stop and “take care of myself”? If I didn’t do this stuff, it wouldn’t get done.
Much later that evening, sitting in my now fairly clean house, I faced my brother who was the person who had been assigned the insurance work that I had just spent three days on. I struggled to say anything to him. He is such a good egg. He works long hours at his day job only to come home and try his best to help his wife raise their family. On top of it, I know he already feels guilty not being nearby to help with the day to day care of our parents.
But, on the flip-side, I have too much on my plate with my parents living near me. What is a big sister to do? Say something and risk hurting a brother she loves, or schlep along doing more than she can handle?
Then he pulled out his iPhone and showed me some recent videos of his kids ice skating on the backyard rink he built. The rink was amazing. Refined after two years of working out the kinks, this year it looked almost professional. With its whitewashed sidewalls, netting, and lights (for those post dinner neighborhood hockey games) it was a child’s winter dream.
Film clips of the kids spinning around towing each other by their hockey sticks and impromptu practice sessions among the local boys warmed my heart. And my icy soul.
Here before my Martha-eyes was a glimpse of what life right now was perhaps most about.
Amidst the clips of my laughing niece and nephew was a loving father taking the time to build something special for his children. Perhaps this was not a man who was shirking his duties to his sister, but a guy who maybe got life, and Jesus’s lesson, a lot better than I had recently.
Yes, we each have our endless duties. We each get overwhelmed with life and work.
Yes, if we don’t do it no one will.
But, there is something much more important than getting all this stuff done. Really. That something is taking the time to breathe. To go left into delight (or ice skating), instead of right into self-martyrdom (and paper-pushing and cleaning).
This diversion, this decision to stop and spend time in the life our Heavenly Father has given us is the best seat in the house.
For simply, it is to see God in the moments of our day. Even on an ice rink in the backyard, in the dark, under the lights.