Do you know the story about Martha and Mary? They are sisters who were friends of Jesus and the Bible records one of the times Jesus came to their home in the tenth chapter of the book of Luke. Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, taking in everything he was saying. Martha, by contrast, was busy being the hostess, "distracted by all the preparations that had to be made". She then goes up to Jesus asking, "Lord, don't You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
I have read - and heard - and studied - and pondered this account many times. I can surely relate to Martha and find myself filling in the blanks of what might have been her experience. I imagine her desiring to be reclining at Jesus' feet but she couldn't get past all that needed to be done. She couldn't rest when she had a special guest in her home! It was her job, her obligation, to make all the preparations. I suspect the inner conflict came and bitterness crept in, when what she desired clashed with what she felt was expected of her. I envision her grumbling to herself in the kitchen, fighting this battle within her heart and mind, as she was left alone to do the work.
Oh, Martha, I get you. I read between the lines of this story because I wrestle with this every day. The things that my heart desires - the things that bring depth and meaning and peace - are things that I have to carve out the time to do at the expense of urgent tasks. These urgent tasks really aren't important but they scream at me in an endless to-do list, demanding my attention. And when I leave these tasks, I feel guilty for letting them pile up. It is a burden and a weight that I can't shrug off. There is a million things to do, and not enough hours or energy with which to get them done, and all I really want to do is rest at Jesus' feet. I want to stop all this spinning and toiling in order to receive His peace. But the truth is, I continue to struggle reconciling "being" with all the "doing".
What I do know is that all this toiling is not what Jesus wants for me. He has not heaped this burden on me. Yes, that endless to-do list is there and there are tasks to be done but my priorities are misplaced. Jesus' response to Martha's exasperation is not for her to get back to work, or a glance to Mary to get to work too. Instead, Jesus says, "Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
I don't know what happened after that. Was Martha able to take a deep breath, wipe her hands on her apron and sit with her sister? And if she did, was she able to truly rest at Jesus' feet without the nagging thoughts of the dishes in the kitchen and the meal cooking over the stove? The reality is, someone has to cook the meal if we want to eat and someone has to be the hostess if we want to have people in our homes. The reality is, there is work to do. There are toilets to clean, laundry to tend to, children to bathe, lunches to prepare, meals to plan, groceries to buy, cheque books to balance, people to call, gifts to buy, meetings to attend, deadlines to meet, (feel free to add whatever else comes to your mind), along with all the external messages coming at us that tell us we are not quite good enough as we are.
Is anyone else exhausted?
I began this post today with the intention of writing about the bombardment of self-improvement messages we hear at the dawn of a new year. I wanted to remind myself, and you, that we are enough as we are. I wanted to make a declaration that all the things the world tells us will make us happy are fleeting and superficial. I was going to spout off about an industry that capitalizes on our desire to change and find lasting peace by selling us a product, promising with a money back guarantee that they have the answer. All this led me to Martha and Mary. I see Martha as the one who is toiling to find her purpose, bound by expectations and obligations. And Mary, she may have the same internal struggle as her sister but she is making a stand for what matters to her. Perhaps she can rest because she really knows who she is and that her value isn't wrapped up in all that "doing".
What I do know is that God has me on a long, refining road, teaching me about purpose, identity, value and rest. For reasons unknown, we aren't designed for a quick fix. The road of life is one of life-long learning and continual transformation. I could continue writing a book about all that is on my heart and mind. And the temptation is to not post my writing until I've said all there is to say - until I've got it all figured out in a 200 word paragraph. But I'm a work in progress and it's messy. What I desire clashes with the pressures of reality.
I might be Martha, toiling away, but I'm learning a little more about how to be like Mary.
acrylic on wood panel
12" x 18"
Erin Stinson 2014