My house is a mess. Not just today but as a general rule, my house is a mess. Happy children live here and the evidence is all over the floor, at all times. Apparently, it’s often necessary to pull all of the dress up clothes out of the box in order to find the right princess crown. Raiding the tupperware cupboard is also a popular pastime. Occasionally, if I’m making a salad and I can’t find my salad spinner, the girls will bring it to me filled with “little people” who’ve been enjoying the ride of their lives.
Josh and I are not uptight about cleanliness (obviously!) but there are many jobs that simply must be done regularly. For example, making meals, changing diapers, washing dishes, taking out the trash, shopping for groceries, and washing, folding, and putting away laundry are all tasks that have to be completed in order for our household to function. There are multiple times each day when I’ll be in the middle of one of these tasks and a more desirable option presents itself. “Mommy, can you read me this book?” Sometimes I can drop everything and take a break, but often, the task at hand should be completed first.
In the story of Martha and Mary, in Luke 10:38-42, Martha hosts a dinner for Jesus. She’s “distracted with much serving,” saying to Jesus, “ ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’”
This story has haunted me for years. We all want to be Marys, sitting at Jesus’ feet, soaking in the grace and peace of His presence, right? We want to be Marys in our homes and families too; we’d love to snuggle on the couch with our kids all day, reading books, making bracelets, and playing pretend. But the dirty diapers must be changed, the groceries must be purchased, and if we never took out the trash … you get the point. At times I’ve felt sympathy for Martha. We’ve all been there – hosting a party and being stuck in the kitchen trying to get all the food ready while the guests are laughing and enjoying the appetizers out on the patio. We say to ourselves, “Somebody’s got to do this.” So here’s my dilemma: I truly want to be a Mary, but sometimes I’m stuck being a Martha simply because Martha’s work must be done eventually. Can you relate?
This is something I’ve prayed about and last week God gave me a new, humorous perspective. What if Jesus had granted Martha’s request? What if the conversation had gone this way…
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ And the Lord answered her, “Oh Martha, you poor suffering servant, you’re completely justified in your bitter, workaholic attitude. And doggone it, Mary! Would you get up off of the floor and get to work, woman?!”
After I thought about this alternate ending, I said, “Thank goodness that it didn’t happen this way.” Literally, “THANK YOU, GOD that this is NOT what You’d said.” If Jesus had taken this alternate approach, we’d all be stuck in our works-based lives.
Let’s look back at the original text. Notice that Jesus doesn’t correct Martha for working. In fact, Luke says that Martha is “serving,” which we often see Jesus Himself doing. In a practical sense, Jesus isn’t saying, “Don’t work.” Rather, Jesus corrects Martha’s attitude while praising Mary’s. It’s as if He’s inviting us to drop the bitter, workaholic act and sit down (proverbially or literally) as the eager, relaxed listener. We don’t know the back story, perhaps Jesus’ tone of voice was particularly loving when He was talking to Martha. Perhaps Mary had been helping prior to this scene. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had given Martha the gift of hospitality and she just needed a quick attitude adjustment so she could use her resources to bless the Lord and others.
A friend pointed out to me that no kids are mentioned in this scene. So are parents exempt from the Lord’s correction here? Are we off the hook because we have to take care of our little ones? On the contrary, I think this passage offers priceless insight to me as a parent. Yes, there is work to be done, diapers to change, food to prepare. But instead of being “anxious and troubled about many things,” maybe Jesus invites me to take on Mary’s attitude as a parent. Instead of cultivating that stressed, harried, hectic attitude with my kids, perhaps the Lord wants me to model for my kids an attitude of relaxed joy and willing service as I go about my work. Instead of gawking over the increasing mountain of dishes in the sink, maybe I can thank the Lord for the delicious meal we shared as a family with the food we could afford to buy. Rather than begrudgingly taking out the stinky diaper trash, perhaps I can celebrate the fact that my kids have perfectly working digestive systems that are fearfully (Can I get an AMEN?!) and wonderfully made. And those dirty spots on the walls can wait. As a friend says, “I’m not raising a house. I’m raising kids.”
If Jesus came to my house for dinner, I’m sure there would be toys on the floor. But I’ll bet He’d plop right down between the blocks and the rocking horse, hold little Sam on His lap, and tell my girls a story. Would I stress over dinner? I have a few Tilapia fillets and bread loaves in my freezer. Maybe if I tell Jesus about my fish and loaves He’ll do the cooking.
In the meantime, I think I’ll make myself a sign to hang in my entry way that reads, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!”