Mary and Martha Both Live Here

I’ve always been a fairly driven, type “A” personality and have been able to handle, more or less, the demands on my life.  However, in recent years I began suffering from back problems that really took the wind out of my sails.  One thing led to another and before I knew it, a few years had passed and I had not entertained guests in my home.  In fact, I had not gone out much either.  The busy-ness of teenage sons, career demands, ailing parents, and other sundry obligations, along with my own health issues, filled my days.  Those days, then, turned into weeks that obligingly turned into months which seemed to quickly vanish into years and, well, the last gathering of friends or family in my home was for my oldest son’s high school graduation party a few summers ago. 

For me, this is quite the contrary to my interests and enjoyment of company.  I simply love entertaining.  My husband and I have always hosted one or two big family gatherings throughout the year as well as the summer bar-b-ques for friends.  And there have always been my own special brunches just for my girlfriends where I set the table with my cherished porcelain dishes and tea cups and we enjoy discussing the things of life.  On any of these occasions I’m known to pull out a board game and ignore moans and groans knowing they quickly turn into peals of laughter that ring throughout the house.  Even my teenagers have been caught up in the love and laughter that is always evident during these times. 

But as often happens, life got the upper hand and so with my mother’s 70th birthday approaching, my heart became heavy with worry knowing I should do something but feeling I couldn’t do anything.  My list of why I couldn’t have a party for my mother was quite long.  One would have to assume that I had been compiling it over the past couple of years, albeit subconsciously, as I let the Martha in me slowly take over where Mary used to preside.  It is such an easy, subtle shift that unless an event like a milestone birthday for a loved one appears on the horizon, it will almost always go unnoticed and will certainly go unchecked. 

Struggling to ignore my list of “why-nots,” I began compiling my list of “whys.”  Certainly the list looked impressive, after all it was my mother’s 70th birthday, but that nagging Martha in me, who had so many other obligations, felt that surely someone would pick up the ball that I was doing my best to avoid.  Admittedly, my sisters have been doing more than their fair share in the past few years, but I had a list of why that needed to be so as well.  As you can see, Martha makes a lot of lists!

Needless to say, as my mother’s birthday fast approached, something in me that fondly recalled the great times of fun and laughter at the gatherings in my home won out and I made a commitment to host a birthday party.  Learning from Lot’s wife not to look back, I threw away my list of why this party might not be the best item on my schedule and plowed ahead.  This isn’t to say I didn’t make other lists, because I did.  I made a list of who could do what to help and what groceries needed to be purchased.  The list I made for my husband included things like “clean the side window and screen” and “touch up the paint on the closet doors.”  But they were good lists, helpful lists even.  They didn’t intimidate but said, “This is going to be fun!”

I was on a roll and found a joy in my heart that I hadn’t felt in awhile.  Yes, the party was going to be somewhat expensive and yes, the party was going to be a lot of work, but the thought of filling my home with my aunts and uncles was becoming a real treasure.  I cooked, cleaned, and prepared with gusto.  I wasn’t feeling burdened but blessed.  The day of the party was a particularly cold, rainy day but even that didn’t dampen my spirits.  What was supposed to have been an outside event quickly became an inside event and although it was too late to change the menu that required the grill, even that became a blessing as my brother-in-law stood outside with my husband and kept them both dry with an extra large umbrella!

A few days have now passed since the party and I feel completely energized!  I am ready to sign up for Thanksgiving and Christmas and even Arbor Day.  And I can’t help but think of the story of Mary and Martha.  I believe that these two women exist in each of us, vying for attention but needing to be in harmony.  That is why we can become so enamored of their story.  We contemplate why Christ chides Martha and feel empathy because Martha is a very real part of who we are.  She was on the right track because she was, after all, the one who invited Him in, and yet misunderstood what was then expected of her.  Mary, on the other hand, while seemingly presenting to us an attitude of peace and centeredness that we all aspire to, sometimes seems a bit, well, lazy.  Don’t we think, “Hmmm…realistically, doesn’t someone need to get these things done?”  But these women exist in Scripture for a reason.

They are meant to show us the balance required to live as a follower of Christ.  I am currently conducting an online woman’s study for Catholic Exchange.  It is quite evident that the “Mary” in many women initiated the “signing up,” or in Scripture the “inviting Him in.”  But the Martha has quickly taken over and our weekly posts are down to just a few participants.  The same thing happened with the earlier session.  The “Mary” in each of us is quick to invite things into our lives because we know they are important (Bible study, helping others, even pampering ourselves with our friendships) but then the “Martha” in each of us quickly relegates things, often out of necessity, to varying degrees of “importance.”  And those branded “most important” get our time and attention.  Unfortunately, like Martha in the story, we miss out because we’ve mislabeled these things.  What we think is important may not be in the scheme of things and those things, like Mary sitting at Christ’s feet, get relegated to the bottom of the list consequently getting little or no attention. 

Just as Christ reprimanded Martha, so, too, was the Holy Spirit reprimanding me in regards to my mother’s party.  It was time for me to give some control back to Mary and to sit at Christ’s feet.  In a world that cultivates the Martha in each of us, it is time for us to nurture the Mary.

Cheryl Dickow

By

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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  • Claire

    Beautiful article; it really hit home.

  • pfmacarthur

    Hi Cheryl,

    It’s so nice to be able to leave comments again :) I find it interesting that in your article, God was calling you to be more “Martha-like” in terms of doing housework. I think you are right that we do need to have that balance of Mary and Martha in our lives.

    Best wishes,
    Patrice

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