Let’s talk about Mary and Martha.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s found in Luke 10:38-42:
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “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.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I used to always dread sermons on that particular chapter in Luke because Martha never comes out looking great, and I have always known that I’m more like her than Mary. I’m always the one rushing around, trying to get everything done. The one frantically making sure the house is spotless and the room feels welcoming, even if it requires me to continue straightening up after guests have arrived.
Sometimes it makes me want to defend Martha. After all, the Scripture says she welcomed Jesus into her home—which means it was her home, not Mary’s. And if you were the one hosting the Messiah, wouldn’t you try to make sure everything was perfect?
Which, of course, is the problem.
Because we do host the Messiah, and we, too, get so distracted trying to make sure our heart is clean, and pretty, and perfect that we avoid actually spending time with Him.
We choose not to sit with Him, because we are too busy trying to prepare a place for Him.
We get upset and anxious over the things inside of us that aren’t perfect, and we lose sight of the truth that He chose us to be His dwelling place even while knowing our imperfections. And unfortunately, that can lead us down the road of comparison, where we actually begin to resent people who don’t have it together but come boldly into His presence anyways. We self-impose strict rules on ourselves (i.e. “I don’t deserve to sit with Jesus until after I’ve prepared the perfect place for Him,”) and then we try to enforce those rules on others. Cue Martha: “Lord, don’t you think it’s unfair that my sister isn’t also working?” Which obviously makes us no friends.
So, if you are at all like me—a recovering perfectionist—let me take a minute to encourage you. Because for fellow Martha’s, stories like this one can be discouraging. Especially when you hear people say to, “be a Mary instead of a Martha.”
Instead, I would submit to you:
Be a Mary BEFORE a Martha.
Take the time to sit at His feet, and then go and serve. Listen to His counsel, and then let it transform you. Set your heart on Him, and then let your work be an expression of your worship.
If you start as a Martha, you will never be able to be a Mary, because there will always be more to clean and more to fix. But if you start as a Mary, receiving all of the love and wisdom He has to give, you can then do the work of a Martha without being distracted or troubled.
The Kingdom of God needs both Mary’s and Martha’s.