On Being Martha (It’s a Good Thing)

~~About a year ago, a friend asked me if I wanted to take part in a local charitable effort. It was something that I had always been interested in and seemed like a group doing good work, so of course I jumped at the chance. No sooner than the first email exchange concluded, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. This group is indeed doing good, and there are many happily committed volunteers working to support it, but it is a hot mess of inefficiency, redundancy, disorganization, illogic, and waste, none of which I have any (and I mean any) tolerance for. I am exasperated beyond expression by the whole experience.

You understand, don’t you, that the problem is me? I am a Martha. I am Martha to the bone. I am happy to be Martha in every way, and I don’t relate well to the Mary’s of the world. I have a Martha response to them. Get up. Do something. And if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, or at least well. Your lack of planning or effort or organization should not become someone else’s burden.

Martha always gets a bad rap, and for some reason – well for a lot of really valid reasons in a modern cultural application, but that’s another post – we twist around the story of Luke 10 until we have demonized Martha for nothing more than serving in her gift, while lauding Mary for laying around listening to Jesus. And yes, I know He said that Mary chose the better part, but He was talking about the listening, not the laying around (read some of the Proverbs if you’d like to argue the point). Jesus never told Martha to stop what she was doing. He never told her that she was somehow broken, that her desire to serve well was wrong, or that she needed to change who she was created by God to be. He just told her to reconsider her focus. That’s what I realized is wrong with my service in this organization. What Luke records about Martha is true of me as well. I am distracted by my service and worried and bothered by many things.

If you parse the Greek on those three words – distracted, worried, and bothered – you can loosely interpret that to say that Martha is being drawn away (from Jesus) by much ministry, seeking to promote her own interests, and in a tumult like a crowd that’s all stirred up.

What people usually fail to see is the change in Martha, evident if you follow her story throughout the gospels to where we find her in John 11 and 12. She took Jesus’ words to heart and found a way to listen while she worked. It was entirely beyond Martha’s ability (or desire, I would guess) to change her very nature and stop serving to lounge about with the guys listening to Jesus, so she learned to serve and listen. She didn’t contort her character or shirk her duties (see John 12), but she learned to serve and hear (even in that she is the model of efficient multi-tasking!).

Now maybe Martha and I are the only ones here, but… I think not. What I came to understand today is that it’s OK to be dissatisfied with the current state of affairs (God is a God of order and efficiency!) but it is not OK to become so distracted by my own agenda (chaffing against the system) that I am in such a tumult that I cannot hear Jesus over the sound of the crowd in my head! My focus while serving this group has been all wrong. There is good work being done here! Jesus is totally in it! It is work that He is blessing in spite of its messiness, and I’m sure it’s bearing fruit. I just haven’t been able to appreciate all of that because every experience has for me been an exercise in maddening annoyance. (I'm sure they feel likewise!)

That said, I am and always will be Martha. Unlike Martha, I have a choice here. I am not compelled to continue serving in this role. Knowing that and applying wisdom tells me that it’s time to make room for someone who can serve in this role and hear Jesus while they’re doing it. I can’t. I would like to say that I could stay and be refined, but I know better. There are other places where I can serve and hear Jesus (and not do harm while I’m at it!). I am there already in more than one instance.
I think it’s OK to know our limits, to admit our sin, and not to seek out opportunities that test the very last nerve of our tolerance level (he who would not fall down ought not to walk in slippery places!). This is the way I am wired. God created me this way, and He has good work for me to do utilizing all the gifts He has given me. I don’t have to change the way this group operates, or even change myself to fit here. I just need to – as my son always says – get in my own lane and serve where I can still hear Jesus as I do. Being Martha. Listening.