One time, I snapped at my husband about the day’s Gospel reading.
We didn’t hold opposing beliefs. We didn’t interpret a fundamental teaching differently. We simply read the words uttered by Saint Martha in the Gospel of Luke in practically opposite ways.
“As they continued their journey, he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’” // Luke 10:38-40
Dave and I were in the midst of our morning routine, adding steaming water to the pourover coffee maker in between getting breakfast for our kids and packing our son’s school snack. He filled two mugs and passed one to me as we started chatting about the day’s readings.
That’s when he said, “I think Martha just said that offhandedly and everyone made a bigger deal of it than she meant it to be.”
My jaw dropped.
Anxious and Worried About Many Things
“You are so wrong!” I exclaimed (speaking far less delicately than I would to anyone else on the planet).
“You don’t understand her at all!” I continued, “She was trying so hard to do a good job and get everything done that needed to get done and make sure everyone was taken care of! She must have been so frustrated seeing Mary sitting there because that’s what she wanted to do! But if everyone just sits there, nothing gets done! She finally asked for help because she was at her breaking point!”
Dave looked at me curiously. Compassionately.
Then, he softly said, “Are you sure you’re talking about Martha?”
That caught me off-guard.
Falling Short of What?
Around the time I became a mother, I grew more obsessed than ever with being productive. As my “free” time dwindled to the minutes stolen between feedings or during naps, it felt as though there was never enough time to accomplish everything I wanted to do. Every chore was left half-finished. Every writing session was interrupted. Every workout was cut short. I felt resentful if I saw my husband sit down when there were still unchecked items on my to-do list. I am sure, looking back, that I did occasionally finish things, but it never felt like enough. Everything felt essential, time-sensitive, and, most of all, like a direct reflection on my worth.
I knew I needed help, but my pride insisted that asking for help meant I had failed. So, day after day, I swallowed those sinking feelings of overwhelm and frustration, went to bed disappointed, and felt my anxiety levels slowly climb out of my control.
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The Better Part
Later that day, I opened the words of the Gospel again.
The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’ // Luke 10:41-42
My tender heart could not bear to read these words as a scolding. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what else Jesus might have said to his dear friend Martha, or what He might have expressed to her through his loving gaze and gentle tone.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. I see you. I see how hard you are working. But right now, I don’t need food or drink or for your kitchen to be clean—I just want your presence. I just want you near to Me. I want to speak with you and laugh with you and listen to what is on your heart. I want to give you peace and contentment in My presence. I want to speak life and truth over you. I want you to find your identity in Me, not in your work or your productivity. I call you by name. I love you. I see you. Cast all your worries and anxieties on Me. Let Me give you rest.”
As I imagined Him saying these words to Martha, I let Him say them to me as well.
The One Jesus Loves
We don’t know very much about Saint Martha, other than the three references to her across the Gospels of Luke and John. The first is the above exchange at Martha and Mary’s home. The second is when the sisters send word to Jesus about their brother Lazarus’ serious illness. In the midst of that chapter is John 11:5, which says simply, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
It blew my mind when I realized that every reference in John’s Gospel to “the disciple Jesus loved” was John referring to himself. I can only imagine that his perfect confidence in Christ’s deep and abiding love for him came from his place at the foot of the Cross. What if I too could find that assurance at the feet of Jesus, sitting beside these sisters that Jesus loved?
It took years of prayer and months of therapy to break free from the anxiety that had determined my thoughts and actions for most of my life. To recognize and embrace that I, like Saint Martha, Saint Mary, Saint Lazarus, and Saint John, am one that Jesus loves. That He invites me, too, to set down all of my work and be near to Him.I, like Saint Martha, Saint Mary, and Saint Lazarus, am one that Jesus loves. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Jesus, You know me. You know when I sit and when I stand. You understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest. With all my ways, you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, You know it all (Psalm 139). Help me to lay everything down. Give me the strength to let things wait or to let go of them altogether so that I can rest in Your presence. Reorder the priorities in my heart to align with Yours. Amen.
Do you relate to Saint Martha? How do you answer Jesus’ invitation to sit at His feet?
Martha, Martha... // Anxious and Worried #BISblog // Click To Tweet