Mary-Martha Syndrome: Living in Martha’s World with Mary’s Heart
It never ends. It’s always something. There are days when we all just wish the world would stop so we could jump off. Even when things are wonderful, those days happen just a bit more frequently than I’d like. In this post I’d like to talk about living with Mary’s heart in a Martha world, or having a ‘Martha’ mind with a ‘Mary’ heart. Now, before the gentlemen folk toss this aside, I beg them to consider the application here. This is truly a sympathetic post written for all of us. It’s not overly spiritual. Actually, it’s rather practical. And if you need just a moment to sit down and actually listen to someone who is echoing your lamentations – well, here’s your chance. Because you’re not alone, my friend. We all live in this world. And the hard cold truth is – it’s just not easy. If you feel like a hamster on the proverbial wheel, you’re not running that race alone. I’d like to discuss the Mary-Martha Syndrome with all of you. As an RN, I’ve decided this could actually be a diagnosis. Because these two women are worlds apart, yet they are destined to sisterhood and must learn to live together and function simultaneously in the same house. I want to talk with you about living in Martha’s world with Mary’s heart. If you haven’t already guessed – it’s not easy.
Now it came to pass, as they went , that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her, (Luke 10:38-42, KJV).
Two Women In One
I truly sympathize with Martha. But I really love Mary. Even so, I genuinely understand what Martha goes through and how she thinks. I am the queen of multi-tasking, and until ‘DO’ becomes ‘DONE’ my wheel keeps spinning. Mary drives Martha crazy – and vice versa. These two women are polar opposites. They are as dichotomous as they come, and I genuinely understand each one, because in fact, I’m the best of both these women. God has given me Mary’s heart and Martha’s mind. Mary is the one who wants to sit at Jesus’ feet all day, hanging on His every word, leaning upon his shoulder close to His heart, and basking in His presence. Martha is the woman who can multi-task a dozen things and do them all well. She’s the one who prefers to serve and fusses over every meticulous detail. She’s the one who is always, as Jesus says: ‘careful’ (anxious) and ‘troubled’ (disturbed). Martha is the one who cannot sit down, even for one moment, to entertain the presence of Christ for the sake of something pending. Mary just ditched everything and took her opportunity. Therefore, Mary and Martha do not get along.
I am these two women in one. Literally. I’d love to just ditch everything and sit at Jesus’ feet. Yet there are days when I simply cannot choose. Martha and Mary are extremely competitive. When Mary doesn’t get her time with Jesus, things do not go well. Mary is very tender-hearted and emotionally fragile. She is regularly given to what I call ‘Jesus withdrawal’ and cries easily (weeping to be exact). When Martha doesn’t get her stuff done, she simply goes mad and then blames Mary. This is the internal paradox that I live with every single day of my life. This is actually quite comical. If you are laughing, I’m laughing with you. I spend time pining for the LORD, many times with tears of longing in my eyes, and my heart nearly bursting – all the while I’m staring at a million and one things on my ‘honey-do’ list: the obligations and responsibilities of an adult life that demand to be met on time. This is the woman Jesus Christ has made me, and I’m STILL having to sort things out between these two women. I STILL have days when I feel pulled by Martha and entirely wooed by Mary.
I like Mary better. Don’t you?
Yet sadly, Mary doesn’t get her way very often. It seems Martha wins out most of the time. Mary wants the luxury of sitting and basking in the Lord’s presence forever and ever without end, amen. And Martha is ever-beckoning me away from Him because the obligations of this world simply do not stop.
Can you relate?
I am that woman you see who has everything scheduled, and all the while she is crying inside because she really just wants to be with Jesus.
If you haven’t already noticed, life is rough.
So this post is especially for those of you, who like me, struggle refereeing between Martha and Mary all day long – precisely because you’re the best of both these women rolled into one. You can do it all. People can hand you just about anything and you can serve it up, but in reality, if you could have your way, you’d be sitting at His feet and hanging on His every word – allll daaaay looong…
So how do we get to be both and do it well? I still don’t have this one completely figured out. Of course, we could hand out clichés such as ‘walk in the Spirit’, ‘take up your cross’ and the like. However, the practicalities of this life are much more difficult than tying them up with a neat little scriptural bow. Walking in the Spirit and taking up your cross are not easy. The Spirit is constantly striving against our own flesh, this world, and the devil, who is ever prowling about. The obligations of the world, the distractions, and the responsibilities are more than what I really care to take on. Not to mention the daily temptations, battles and trials that are many times fought. And although I’m good and gifted at juggling a dozen things at once, the reality is, my heart just was not created for that kind of life – even though I can beautifully pull it off.
So how do we give Mary and Martha their way?
I’ll start with Mary.
What Mary chose is what we were all created to possess – the very presence of Christ and His Word. I adore intimacy with Christ. It’s absolutely wonderful. Nothing can compare to Him, His voice, His word, His touch, and His ministry. His friendship is absolutely beautiful. I love solitude and tranquility, and I’m a very earthy person. The best music for me is the wind in the trees and the birds in the air. I love to listen to children playing and laughing. I love to listen to rain fall. These are some of my favorite sounds. And the only way Mary gets her way is to literally shut out the world in which Martha presides. Mary lives in Martha’s world in which there are expectations for her to fulfill. And despite her choice to sit in Christ’s presence, Martha’s world is not going to go away, and her demands continue to beckon.
So the key for Mary is to learn how to draw boundaries to protect and preserve that time with her LORD.
This is what is needful.
I remember a season in my life when God called me apart to Himself, away from everyone else, for a six month sabbatical. I fasted dinner every night as well as every form of entertainment and social activity for six months. That is what many would consider a strict fast, because it touched upon every area of my life. I do not believe a fast such as this one is common, yet God’s purpose was clearly seen once it was finished. This was an extraordinarily intimate time. Jesus Christ was my sole companion. I had no other interruptions from family or friends. He literally incubated me. I fasted any and every possible entertainment: the phone, my friends, books, music, movies, TV, news, and yes – surprisingly even church, which was the LORD’s command. My only outing was my daily work. I ate breakfast and lunch, and when I came home I hit my knees and fasted dinner, spending intimate time with the LORD until I went to bed, which was often past midnight.
It was an AMAZING six months. That season of time was incredible, and He revealed things to me that I could have never known otherwise, and there were things He performed in me that He could not have done any other way. That time was very needed, because that very year when I was only twenty-eight years old – I was dying. Had it not been for that six month sabbatical, I’m not sure how I would have made it through that incredible season of trial and testing which lasted more than three years.
Sometimes Martha has to be dealt with in a very strict manner. Dealing with Martha is not easy. This is the ‘evil’ sister, so-to-speak. I do not like her. But I’ve got to give credit where it’s due: this lady gets it done.
Martha represents the world. She is concerned about things that really have little to no spiritual or eternal significance. These are fleeting issues that pop up every day. They are also the ‘mundanes’ that are so nagging and repetitive. And although Martha is a gifted woman of organization, administration, planning, socializing, and even hospitality, she’s not the most intimate person. She’s a classic Type-A. She likes her list checked off. She’s rather ‘troubled’ as Jesus puts it. Sound familiar?
Yes, ‘troubled’ is what He calls her. Martha is consumed with the demands of this world and their ‘troubles’. Martha is drowning in duty. She is up to her eyeballs in obligation and responsibility. That is her proverbial ‘lens’. And when Mary comes along to just hang with Jesus, Martha gets a bit miffed and begins to gripe. And in His response to her we see His compassion. ‘Martha, Martha’ He says to her. We hear a beckoning from Him. In that response I hear a wooing in Christ’s tone that is calling her to Himself. He pins it on her – and in this illuminating moment He reveals that she can have what Mary has chosen as well.
Jesus taught us clearly what is truly important. This was not merely a male response. This was the Son of God saying, “Hey Martha – Mary’s got it. She’s figured out what’s really important. And Martha, you can have it too, but I’m not taking it away from her so you can spin your orb around her.” Of course, He was much more tactful, but I think that was the gist of His point. Mary was willing to let things go for the sake of her relationship with Christ. Martha, for whatever reason, did not make that same choice (as far as we are told).
Finding What’s Truly Needed
Mary values relationships, particularly her time with the LORD. She represents the thirsty, hungry, eager soul that is panting at Jesus’ feet. She sits and basks in His presence. She doesn’t get caught up in spiritual jargon and ritual. She just sits there and lets Him be who He is. Mary soaks in His presence and you know what? He lets her. He even encourages her. He says that this is what is ‘needful’.
Mary chose what every soul needs: the presence of Christ, the Living Word.
WE SEE JESUS CHRIST PROTECTING THAT CHOICE.
Martha just never quite got that. And even after their brother, Lazarus, was raised from the dead, it was Mary who came running to Jesus, weeping and later anointed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She was totally sold out. To her Jesus was no longer just a friend with a following. He became her God.
I don’t know about you, but I want to live the life of Mary, and stop catering to Martha. That’s not easy to pull off, regardless of your age, sex, career, or marital status. Life in this world just doesn’t seem to stop long enough to breathe sometimes.
Let’s discuss some of the practical things we can do so that Mary actually gets her way on a daily basis.
1.) ACTIVATE THE OFF BUTTONS. I’ve come to love the off buttons. If it has an off button – it gets pushed. The phone is off, the TV is off, anything even possibly interruptive gets turned off. And if the world had an off button (Glory to God) it would be pushed as well.
2.) POCKETS OF TIME. Take whatever you can get. I am a firm believer in grabbing opportunities when they strike. However, you’ve got to be ready, because you never know when they’re going to come. It may be that five minute lull at the stoplight that refuses to turn. Maybe it’s the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Sometimes we fail to recognize these otherwise annoying moments as opportunities to silently sit at the feet of Jesus and bask in His presence. Sometimes these are at odd times in bizarre places. But I’ll take ’em. Just give them to me.
3.) TAKE FIVE. Everyone respects a ‘take five’ moment. Sometimes all you need to say is, “I’m taking five,” and simply make your exit. Anyone worth their salt will understand and respect that moment. Go wherever you need to go and breathe. As an RN, I’ve been known to have some of my most intimate times with God in the employee bathroom. I carry a small bible and notepad in my pocket. It’s amazing what Jesus can do in five minutes. Seriously.
4.) EARLY MORNINGS & LATE NIGHTS: Carve out time for Him. These are the times when no one is likely to beckon for you (unless you’re a new mother). I have learned to really enjoy and savor these quiet tranquil times. Early mornings and late nights are precious. Sleep is wonderful, but make time for Him when you can.
5.) LEARN TO BE RESPONSIVE. There are times when I can feel Christ gently nudging me or calling to me, and He can actually do this at the most ‘inconvenient’ of times. As a young Christian I didn’t always respond in a timely manner. To be very candid, I was ‘rude’ to Him. I put Him off reasoning I’d catch up with Him later when I had time or when it was convenient. It doesn’t work that way with God. When He nudges you, learn to respond in that moment. Don’t miss Him.
6.) SAY NO. I’ve learned that others can wait. Jesus Christ has to come first. Your relationship with Him is paramount to any other. Period. Fiercely protect that time with Him.
7.) JUST LET IT GO. Pick your battles. Discern your priorities appropriately. I’ve learned that things don’t have to get done. For years I was the type who could not sit down, settle, or concentrate until everything was finished and in order. As a result, things just kept coming at me. I found that cycle of ‘DONE’ never ended. I have concluded that ‘DONE’ is not a reality. Nothing is ever truly done. The concept of ‘DONE’ simply does not exist. So, I’ve learned over the years to let it go. However, it’s not in my nature to do that. That’s the Martha in me. But Mary has been known to have temper tantrums that keep Martha at bay, if you know what I mean. I’m a not a pleasant person when I don’t get my time with Jesus. That’s true for all of us, and it manifests in each personality differently. So I’ve learned to let it go. My spiritual satisfaction of soul is much more important than having everything carefully sorted.
JESUS CHRIST IS THAT GOOD PART THAT IS MOST NEEDFUL.
If you’re anything like me, and you have a ‘Martha’ mind and a ‘Mary’ heart, you’ve probably struggled with these issues as well. Perhaps you can relate. The Martha-Mary Syndrome is one that I believe we all can relate to in some degree. There will always be the pull of the Spirit against the flesh in the midst of the world and it’s obligations.
One thing I’ve learned: Mary knew what was truly important; what was really needed, and that is what she chose. Jesus never took that from her. In fact, He protected and preserved it. That’s very encouraging to me. I hope it is for you, too, because we can all make Mary’s choice in Martha’s world.
I really hope this post has helped you. If it has, just know that you’re not alone. Living in this world, while not being ‘of it’ is not easy for anyone who is committed to Christ. Chin up.
Cheers & Shalom,
Thoughtful post, and helpful, to an extent. But I stop short of calling Martha “evil” and I really take exception to that because the Lord said that Mary has chosen the better thing, not that she is a saint while Martha is a sinner. And not that we need to stop doing things, only that sitting at the feet of Jesus is the better thing.
A Christian with a platform bashing us over our heads with a label of “evil” was not needed and I don’t believe true. I was frankly shocked at the ascertion!
Things need to get done and I refuse to think that is evil or that I am evil for working. But we workers need to accomplish without losing peace which I lost yesterday and is why I sought out your post. But I see, not that I need to quit doing because doing and the doer is evil, but I need to pace myself and keep peace in my heart–the better, Mary-like thing. And, leave some things until the morrow. Like me, Martha got overwrought and wrongly blamed Mary when she needed to stop and examine herself, and return to a peaceful aspect, like I needed to do yesterday. As they say, though, a train is a hard thing to stop. That does not give me an excuse; we are called to overcome our fleshly (and frankly dysfunctional) tendencies.
(I have read the Bible story but always ended up with the wry thought: I bet Jesus ate the meal she made, though. I think I have gotten more out of it now!)
I did learn from your post but my protest is over the “Martha is evil” part. We are all learning and hopefully growing and you are doing your part for which I say thanks. I will read your thoughts again. Peace.