From Martha To (More Of) Mary

I wrote last week about Martha and Mary, and admitted my tendency toward Martha’s mindset when I cook meals. Well, I was challenged to live that out as Thanksgiving approached.

I used to really get excited about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It was more than just cooking – I loved all the prep too. The first stage, planning, would start right after Halloween. During the first couple of weeks in November I’d pour over cooking magazines for new recipe ideas. I didn’t really need to, since my husband and kids wanted pretty much the same dishes every year. But looking at all the pictures inspired me.

The next stage was list-making, and boy was I good at that part! I’d categorize and prioritize, cross-referencing ingredients until I had a full shopping list. Then I’d map out a schedule for cooking, baking and roasting.

Like a well-oiled machine, I set to work. Monday was cranberry sauce and chopping up veggies for the stuffing I made on Tuesday. By Wednesday evening, the pies were baked and the turkey was pre-cooked. Everything sat ready in stacked Tupperware containers, a checkmark next to every dish on my list. And I would feel equal parts satisfaction and exhaustion.

Last year, though, things changed. It was actually during my usual session of celery and carrot cutting when my wrists started to hurt. I decided to push through the discomfort, but by the time I got the stuffing together the enjoyment was fading. The meal came out about as good as others had, but I was in pain.  

This year I knew I had to scale back. But as I walked down the grocery store aisles lined with all sorts of mixes and packages, I felt my heart sink. Each possibility of a yummy thing to make my family and guests beckoned me. But I knew there would have been too much stirring, chopping or grating for my joints. Lifting up little prayers for strength, I kept walking.

Letting go of my old all-encompassing approach was hard. Not to be over dramatic, but I felt a sense of loss about making changes to such a familiar ritual. And I was afraid of letting people down.

I shouldn’t have worried. Because in the end, I felt better and that helped everyone have a better time. And I got to have more of Mary’s experience, which I should have been focusing on anyway. All in all, it was a good trade.

Martha & Mary

Do you know the story of Mary and Martha in the Book of Luke? The two women, dear friends of Jesus, host Him and His disciples at their home. The focus of the story is how differently the two women choose to spend the time that Jesus is with them. Mary sits at His feet, listening to His teaching. Martha, however, is busy and distracted preparing the meal.

I used to feel a lot of sympathy for Martha – she got saddled with the work while her sister got to relax. And then, when she pointed that out, Jesus gently scolded her and defended Mary – that didn’t seem fair at all! But I’ve come to understand both sisters a little more.

Both women cared deeply for Jesus. They each valued the friendship they shared with Him. And they were excited to invite Him into their home, welcoming Him and His disciples warmly. The difference between them is in how they showed their affection for Jesus.

Martha wanted to express her care through action. Providing a meal for visitors was part of the culture, an expected courtesy. And as a woman of the time, Mary naturally gravitated toward that task and was good at it. She probably assumed Mary would join her in the kitchen, so there was no need to discuss it.

In contrast, Mary decided to show her love by giving attention. She bucked tradition by settling at the feet of Jesus. She respected His teaching, and  wanted to soak in all He had to offer. Her focus was so fixed that it didn’t even occur to her that she needed to be anywhere else.

I think Jesus’ words to Martha, “you are worried and upset about many things,” were meant to calm her spirit. And when He said that Mary chose the better part, He wasn’t saying Martha’s situation didn’t matter. He was reminding her that relationships are more important than tasks. 

As I get ready to prepare another round of holiday dinners, I’m hoping to find just the right balance between ‘Mary’ and ‘Martha’ thinking. Then I might just take a break from stirring and chopping to treasure being with my guests, even before the meal!