Learning Balance Alongside St. Martha

A good many of us live busy lives. This busyness can become burdensome as we pack our days with activities, work requirements, family engagements, and especially during periods of illness or suffering. Our service to our families and our neighbors can become a source of resentment, exhaustion, and spiritual malaise. This is precisely why Our Lord lovingly rebukes St. Martha when she allows herself to become so overburdened that she cannot stop in Christ’s presence.

Jesus 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.” 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 10:38-42

Through St. Martha’s example, Our Lord is telling us that we must find balance between service and prayer. If we do not take time to sit quietly with Our Lord in adoration, then resentment, anger, envy, exhaustion, and spiritual dryness can take hold. We can become trapped in sinful cycles that can only be broken through time with Christ and renewal through the Sacrament of Confession.

The destructive nature of resentment.

Our days are filled with many responsibilities. These are well and good. We are called to lovingly serve our families and communities. Problems arise when we overemphasize this call to service at the expense of our spiritual lives. Love requires time with God. If we want to grow in the supernatural virtues and be strengthened by the grace offers to us, then we must make regular time to pray. The Church has a rich tradition of many different prayer methods including meditating with Scripture (Lectio Divina, Ignatian), the Divine Office, the Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, one can never overemphasize the need for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and a whole host of other devotions.

Resentment can build up in our hearts when we begin to feel overburdened by our call to serve. This is especially true in times of sickness and suffering. I have spent many long hours over the past few months driving to and from the hospital to see my husband when he has been an in-patient. It has been a challenge to balance serving him, homeschooling our daughter, making sure she’s taken care of, keeping the house up, and taking care of my own physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual needs. When I put prayer on the back-burner, I sense resentment boiling up inside of me. Resentment can cause us to view the world in a disordered manner and to place God at the bottom. This can present in a manner similar to St. Martha’s, which comes out with an envious tone. Resentment is destructive for all of us and those around us. We need quiet time with Our Lord in order to go about our days grounded in the love of God.

Busyness masks pride.

St. Martha’s desire to service Our Lord and to practice hospitality is noble, but there is a danger for all of us to fall victim to the deadly sin of pride. We can convince ourselves that we are more important in a situation than we really are, or, we can push too much into our lives in order to feel important. We do not have to get it all done. Our children do not need to be in every activity under the sun. As to the latter, we end up teaching our children an unhealthy form of busyness that will rob them of peace in adulthood. Christ reminds us that the most important thing is to spend time with Him. He constantly goes to pray on His own in order to spend time with the Father. He is our example. He teaches us to take a step back. It is crucial in order for us to grow in holiness. It is also essential that we work—guided by the Holy Spirit—to root out the deadly sin of pride.

Our culture runs from silence.

Busyness, more-often-than-not, masks our own fears, uneasiness, boredom, and spiritual struggles. It is much easier to focus on tasks–or even an illness–than to stand before Our Lord in all of our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and fears. What is easier: Turning on the TV or spending time in quiet with Our Lord? We often claim that we are too tired, but in truth, our souls have grown lazy (sloth) and we’d rather pursue things of this world than Heaven. Silence reminds us of our struggles. It also reveals our deepest selves and the pain we struggle with in our daily lives. It is easier for me to run to and from the hospital than it is for me to turn to God with my fears that my husband may die in the coming years, much sooner than I expected. Turing to Him with such pain is to be pierced through and it requires me to unite my will to His, even when I want things to be completely different. When we choose to run from silence, we allow uneasiness and anxiety to build up in our hearts. In reality, silence is to swim in the depths of God. It is to be given “the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).”

St. Martha is an excellent companion as we learn to balance the requirements of our daily lives with the demands of the spiritual life. Christ reminds each one of us of the need to sit quietly at His feet in loving adoration. It is in this school of prayer, where we find the peace we need to meet whatever will come our way. We are vulnerable in times of busyness. It is during these times that we can push God aside and appeal to our own sinful pride. This sin then unravels into torrents of resentment, anger, and envy. We must pray for the courage to come to Christ constantly with our needs and to drink in His living water. It is only then that we will be replenished and able to face even the darkest of days.

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken
and mountains quake to the depths of the sea,
Though its waters rage and foam
and mountains totter at its surging.
Selah

Streams of the river gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be shaken;
God will help it at break of day.
Though nations rage and kingdoms totter,
he utters his voice and the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Selah

Come and see the works of the LORD,
who has done fearsome deeds on earth;
Who stops wars to the ends of the earth,
breaks the bow, splinters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire;
“Be still and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
exalted on the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

Psalm 46

image: By © Ralph Hammann – Wikimedia Commons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate student theologian with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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  • Jim Gill

    Constance,

    Thank you for sharing from both the heart and the head. I could relate and it reminded me of Sheen’s question ( I’m paraphrasing loosely ) why would Christ build his church on Peter who betrayed Him three times when Judas only betrayed Him once?

    The answer, was because Peter in his great despair turned outward and up to Christ for forgiveness, knowing his agony could be healed only by the supernatural graces of God. Whereas , Judas turned inward trying to heal himself through his own human powers.

    Sheen then reminds us that Peter took the following slippery path away from his faith;
    and how he got back with the grace of God.

    5 Steps away from Faith:
    1) Neglect of Prayer
    2) Substitution of action for prayer
    3) Lukewarmness
    4) Satisfaction of material wants, feelings, and emotions
    5) Human respect

    4 Steps back to its embrace:
    1) Disillusionment
    2) Response to Grace
    3) Amendment
    4) Sorrow

    You and Sheen remind us all, that we, first and foremost, must go to God in prayer: before we try to serve Him. It really is the most powerful thing we can ever do.

    I will say some prayers today for your family.

    God Bless,
    Jim Gill

  • M.T. D.17

    My parish does not have daily Mass even though the weekly bulletin lists stipend intentions. Our priest claims to be sick yet he says Sunday Masses faithfully. People come to church during the week hoping that he will saymass that day. Usually not. Should this be taken up with the diocese? We all love our priest ,but many of is really want to have regular daily Mass. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Noel Fitzpatrick

    I am sorry to hear your husband has been unwell.
    I believe you are doing the right thing visiting him and caring for him so lovingly.
    I pray that he will soon be fully recovered.
    God bless you and your family.

  • bwc

    Constance,
    It is comforting to know that others – who seem to have everything figured out – also struggle.
    In our household it is my Mother-in-Law, now in her 90’s and suffering from dementia. Every day is a struggle as she believes our efforts are interference, and we struggle to stave off
    resentment and exhaustion. Morning Prayer and Sunday Mass are the only things keeping me going right now. So thank you for your ability to share – and doing so, also to help heal others. You are in my prayers.

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