By Sarah Damm
Have you ever been asked the question, “Are you a ‘Mary’ or a ‘Martha’?”
It’s a loaded question, isn’t it? How are we even supposed to answer it?
As women, many of us naturally identify with Martha more than Mary. After all, we routinely do the tasks that cause Martha so much anxiety—cooking, cleaning, and completing our long to-do list. If we don’t do these things, who will?
But when we hear Jesus say, “Mary has chosen the better part,” we think we should be more like Mary. (Luke 10:42) And this may trigger shame deep inside. We want to defend our Martha-ness, but perhaps our defensiveness reveals an element of truth to our situation. Maybe we are “anxious and worried about many things” (v. 41). So much so that we neglect our prayer, find ourselves distracted at Mass, and are otherwise too busy to sit at the feet of Jesus.
My Mary-and-Martha Story
A few years ago, I found myself in a Mary-and-Martha situation. I was doing a lot of volunteer work and loved it, but it kept me from the things that mattered most: my relationship with the Lord, attention to my family, and cultivation of my charism (writing).
I wrestled with what to do and brought it all to God. Over the course of several months, the nudge to pull back from my work increasingly grew, to the point that I couldn’t ignore it. The Lord was inviting me into a time of increased prayer and contemplation, and He was opening up space in my schedule to grab hold of it.
Although it was difficult, I quit my volunteer position to spend time in prayer, time with my family, and time writing. Many people thought I was crazy. But I had to trust God instead of them. I had to remain attentive to His still, small, steady voice instead of their loud opinions.
Over time, I only received confirmation in following God’s invitation to choose “the better part.” Time in my home with my family was more joyful, and my work as a writer was more fruitful. I felt less stress and more peace.
All because my work flowed from a place of prayer.
Of course, that didn’t mean the holy tension between stillness and activity, prayer and work diminished. I think it is something we always have to work on. In fact, during this transition, perhaps it swung the other way. But this quote from St. Frances of Rome helped me remain balanced and hopeful:
“A married woman must, when called upon, quit her devotions to God at the altar to find Him in her household affairs.”
St. Frances’ words reminded me that the Lord understands the longings of my heart. He delights in my desire to spend time with Him, and He also has given me important work to do in this world that only I can accomplish.
Working From a Place of Recollection
It is important to note that Jesus does not reprimand Martha for her generosity and hospitality. In fact, I am sure He appreciated her comfortable home and delicious meals!
Instead, Jesus addresses her anxiety and worry, and gently guides her back to a place of recollection, a place that Mary never leaves. For Jesus knows that her work is good, but it could be more fruitful and joyful if done from a seat at His feet.
In her book, Jesus Approaches, Elizabeth M. Kelly writes, “I think [Jesus is] inviting her to this radical reordering, calling her back to a recollected state, to remind her who she really is and how even her hospitality must be rooted in and fed from that listening place.”
Mary, Martha, or Both?
So, are you a ‘Mary’ or a ‘Martha’? Is that question even fair to ask?
“I wonder if ‘Martha, Martha’ and Mary weren’t really more representative of just one woman, maybe a woman a lot like … you: torn between the deep desire to cultivate that contemplative listening ear and the real demand to meet the needs of family, work, and health.” (Jesus Approaches)
Today, let us ponder how we are a little bit Mary and a little bit Martha. Let us contemplate how the Lord longs to find us listening at His feet, before He sends us forth to do our very important, God-given work.
Saints Mary and Martha, pray for us!
About the author:
Sarah Damm is a Catholic wife and mother of six children, living in Minnesota. She spends her days running errands, helping with homework, and keeping up with laundry and the family schedule. Sarah loves her faith, coffee, and good books. You can find out more about her and her writing at sarahdamm.com.