Being A Martha

Recently, I re-read an old journal entry and stumbled upon this quote by Jon Bloom. He’s talking about the story of Mary & Martha, and this quote is on “being a Martha:”

“This kind of anxiety is very subtle. It has a selfish root, but its fruit looks deceptively like unselfishness. It’s the desire for approval dressed up to look like the desire to serve. It’s my caring what you think of me dressed up to look like my caring for you. It can be so subtle that we don’t see it clearly. It looks so much like the right thing that we believe it is the right thing.”

In the midst of the holiday season, this quote hit me hard. It’s tempting for me to be a Martha on any given day, but it seems like the holidays can often increase the temptation. I want my house to look just right, my Christmas tree to be decorated just so, and every gift to be personal, thoughtful and, well, perfect. My husband often comments on my gift of “hospitality.” While I do enjoy having people into my home, and I love to make them feel welcome there, I have to confess there’s often a selfish root as well. I want them to feel welcome because that reflects on me as a hostess. I want my home to be clean and well-decorated, not for their sake so much as for my own. Just like Martha, I rush around, making lists (and checking them off!), always in a hurry to get something done; to put on this façade that I have it all together. But that is simply not the response Jesus wants.

“While I do enjoy having people into my home, and I love to make them feel welcome there, I have to confess there’s often a selfish root as well.”

In Luke 10, Martha is distracted by the dinner she’s preparing, while Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, listening to him teach. Martha complains to Him, saying, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42) 

How often do I hear God’s gentle voice telling me, “Anne, you are worried and upset over all these details! Over all these things that don’t actually matter!”  I value a put-together life and am easily distracted by the appearance of things. In our culture, that’s not only acceptable – it’s commendable! The Martha’s are the ones to be admired and elevated. They prepare the best meals, have the most well-decorated and well-organized homes, and are generally the most put-together from head to toe. We esteem that and we want it for ourselves. But we can see clearly in Scripture that Jesus turns that paradigm on its head. He doesn’t ask us to accomplish a checklist of items; He simply asks that we sit and spend time in His presence.

As we prepare our homes, our families and our schedules over the next two weeks, it’s my prayer that we would also prepare our hearts. We are anticipating more than Santa Claus, more than our in-laws from out of town and more than any present that money can buy. We are anticipating the arrival of Jesus. He came in the most humble way possible: as a baby, born in a manager. In Luke 10, He tells Martha there is only one thing worth being concerned about, and Mary discovered it. That one thing is Jesus himself. May our focus be on Him, and not on ourselves, as we celebrate the Ultimate Gift this season.

How can the desire to serve turn into a form of self-promotion? What does this look like in your life?

-Anne Boyd, Pelham