In Everyday Life, Are You Martha or Mary?

The next time you are distracted with worry, turn to this Bible verse and these five key questions gleaned from Scripture.

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Posted in , Jul 15, 2022

Rick Hamlin

It’s a classic story that plays out in our everyday lives. Martha invites Jesus into her home and quickly busies herself as the hostess, while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’s feet, listening to His every word. To Martha’s increasing annoyance.

Here she is, getting together a meal, cooking, cleaning, making the place pleasant, and her sister Mary isn’t lifting a finger. Finally, she complains to the Lord, “Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”

And how does Jesus respond? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Whenever I hear it, I identify with Martha. After all, doesn’t somebody need to do the work? How would anything get done without us Marthas? But then I have to listen closer to what Jesus is saying.

Where does your mind go when you’re doing all the work? Maybe it’s not just the busy work Martha is doing, it’s what she’s thinking. She’s distracted. She’s worrying. She could overhear Jesus while she’s working, but she’s not because her head is in another place. She is full of judgmental thoughts—I do this all the time—and no doubt, self-congratulation.

What do you say to God about it? We’ve got to give Martha a lot of credit or else this story wouldn’t be in the Bible. What does she do? She doesn’t simply fume. She speaks up. She tells God how she feels. This is what prayer is for. To be frank with God. To open up. To say what’s on our minds. 

Can you listen to God’s response? Jesus hears her concerns. Jesus understands. Jesus listens. And he goes one step further, he offers insights into Martha’s quandary. It’s not about the work. It’s about what’s going on in her head. Her worries, her distracted mind. Martha could have heard Jesus while she worked. But her busy mind wouldn’t let her.

What is “the better part?” How often do we get an opportunity like this? To hear Jesus talking in our own home. How do we know how to listen? We have to let go of our Martha side for a moment and hold on to that Mary side. Stop, let go, give up our self-identification and listen.

What lasts forever? It’s not our worries that last. After all, one worry will be displaced by another worry and another and another. There is no end to them. That devilish cycle. But being silent in God’s presence. That’s the chance of a lifetime. And lasts your whole life long. As you do it, again and again and again, every day in prayer. That’s why the Psalmist said, “Even silence is praise.” (And why I wrote a book with that title.)

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