You’re Such a Martha.

((from Steph))

“Oh she’s such a martyr!”

“I know! She drives me nuts! She’s just looking for sympathy. She doesn’t need to work that hard or sacrifice that much and then tell us about it.”

“I agree, bless her heart.”

Ever heard a conversation like this? Ever been the gossiped-about subject yourself?
I know I have.

Although the term ‘martyr’ in it’s historical context holds much pride (how incredible and courageous to advocate for what you believe so strongly that you’re willing to die on account of it!) in our current culture it’s taken an idiomatic turn for the worse.

A quick scroll through Urban Dictionary will reveal our modern-day definition:

Attention seeker. Sympathy forcer. Pity Maker.

Being a martyr isn’t pretty today. In truth, it never really was. The essence of being a martyr is that others don’t understand you, your passions, or your beliefs. And in today’s (female) circles, the phrase has taken on an additional meaning. To be called a martyr is the equivalent of having someone say behind your back: “bless her heart” because deep down, your actions upset or confuse your gossipers in some way.

A few months ago I was sitting at the baptismal site of Lydia in ancient Phillipi (Acts 16). Our group had congregated inside the ancient and breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church on-site and all of us were crowding around our celebrity teacher for the day: Christine Caine.

I was giddy and a bit start-struck. All of us were. To be taught by Christine was a once in a lifetime opportunity, much less to be sitting in such proximity. Because I’m stealthy and observant, I managed to snag a spot at her feet and being the Bible geek that I am, I said to her in an awkwardly excited fashion, “I feel like Mary at the feet of Jesus!”

She didn’t laugh as much as I did… bless my heart.

But there I was, completely captivated and enamored with a cheesy grin on my face for that entire hour by this teacher, leader, and lover of Jesus. There was nowhere else I wanted to be in that moment. To sit and listen to her as a disciple was a dream come true, a moment I will never forget. I still get butterflies thinking about it.

I wonder if Mary felt the same way when Jesus visited her and Martha at their home. Luke writes of the account in his gospel, saying:

While they were traveling, He [Jesus] entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, ‘Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.’ The Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10: 38-42

Mary was so willing and filled with excitement to learn from Jesus that she snuggled up as close as she could to hear his every word. Much like my fan-girl move to sit next to Christine wanting not to miss a thing, Mary positioned herself intentionally – not only in physicality, but in spirit.

We read that we can’t say the same about Martha.

Martha is in the kitchen. Martha is busy doing allthethings. Martha is disengaging with Jesus in an attempt to serve Him.

How often do we find ourselves in this very same place, a Martha instead of a Mary, disengaging in our disciplines that help us connect with God through the Holy Spirit because we are so busy doing other things that we think serve the same purpose?

A wonderfully attentive hostess, Martha’s attention is focused on all that needs to be done to ensure that Jesus and his disciples feel welcomed. Martha isn’t wrong because she cares about these things, she’s ‘wrong’ because she’s chosen these things over her discipleship – her relationship with God himself.

According to Jesus, Mary has made the right choice. She has chosen to put the distractions and tasks of that very moment behind her SO THAT she could focus fully on Jesus in that moment.

It’s understandable, because of their differing priorities, why Martha was so upset with her sister. Martha’s co-hosting a party and her co-host is jibber-jabbing with the guests. Someone has to serve the wine, and the cheese, and set the table and Martha can’t do it all by herself, she needs her sister. Can’t you just imagine Martha’s inner dialogue in this moment? “That Mary–so unreliable and selfish! Her place is in the kitchen, not with the men.”

Martha, Martyr
Tomayto, Tomahto

In a culture dictated by busy tasks and expectations, how do we begin to choose what is right? How do we realign our heart’s desires to focus on soaking in Jesus instead of serving Him by getting the incorrect things correct?
I think it starts with two things: prayer and grace.

Prayer realigns our priorities to God’s. It focuses our attention on Him instead of on ourselves. Being busy with tasks, even the best of tasks that LOVE people well, can distract us from God’s voice and the movement of His Spirit.  What does your prayer life look like? What would it look like to dedicate more time during your day to spending time at Jesus’ feet? Have you ever tried prayer journaling, writing a prayer down for the day in the morning or the evening or mid-day? For me, I find a lot of prayer time in my car; it is often my only time alone where I am not distracted by any tasks other than getting to my next destination. Turning off the music and podcasts has helped me to find my center and the quiet helps me process and find peace in my hectic days.

We cannot begin to let go of being a Martha if we cannot extend and accept grace. We need to practice extending grace to ourselves and to each other. Working hard and focusing on tasks, especially when those tasks work out to serve others, are actions to be celebrated but we must be careful! Our soul and self-care are just as important and lest we forget, we are not the saviors of the world. None of us are expected to do it all. Learning to say no and to ask God and others to help us discern when and why is important. We need each other to bless, speak truth and support each other in this life.

What would it look like to assume the best of yourself and those around you? Is there someone who comes to mind? Is there a task in your life that is causing you distraction? Ask someone to help you process and go back to step one and ask the Lord, too. May we seek to be Marthas with Mary hearts, focused on the right choice.

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