Be Interruptable: The Tension Between Mary and Martha

The mist from the prior evening's rain was frozen solid in the shade at the Toledo Museum of Art in December. As my best friend and I skated every-so-gracefully out of the shadows of the parking garage into the sunshine, we'd just wound up an intriguing chat about those famous sisters- Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Scripture + My Bestie + Art. This may have been my best day ever.  

As a self-proclaimed Martha, I've revisited this scripture again and again. One question has always plagued me, and I chatted about it that day with my self-proclaimed "Mary" friend: Wasn't there stuff that needed to get done? I know Martha was fussing at Mary which obviously isn't very Christ-like (and Christ called her on it), but wasn't Martha’s busyness kind of necessary? Those disciples wanted to eat... right?  (Assuming Jesus wasn’t going to pull a water-to-wine + fishes-loves miracle last minute.)

Who else feels super torn between accomplishing all that the day holds AND simultaneously being available and present with your children? It can't be just me! Sometimes we need to be a Martha- sometimes there's just STUFF to do. How can we do hat and still have a heart to cherish the sacred?

In all honestly, there's a large part of me that has always wanted to be in that room to jump in and defend Martha a little... "Jesus, that all sounds awesome, but she’s trying to serve everyone... She may need some help. Maybe Mary is ALWAYS dumping the load on Martha. Maybe Martha is kind of overwhelmed." <---- Note that this wouldn't be the first time my mouth got me into big trouble. 

Herein lies the tension that I think almost every modern woman feels in her struggle to be both efficient and present: how do we DO BOTH? HOW do we vacillate between what feels like extremes at a moment’s notice? Aren’t BOTH mentalities necessary, at given times?

There is movement after movement and tagline after tagline... Be present. Be still. Wait on the Lord. Savor the moment. The days are long, but the years are short. All the while we hear mantras like work smart, not hard and seize the day. We are faced with bloggers and authors saying that we can "say goodbye to survival mode" and that homeschool moms can teach from rest. If we plan this way, have this checklist, use this system while also resting in the completeness of Christ, we can be the picture of success too. 

And they aren't wrong, but...  Since that day in December, I've been struggling with this notion and what it looks like in MY life. I've been struggling because as much as my smart mouth might want to pop back at Jesus about leaving Martha alone- SHE'S TRYING TO HELP- I also know... he's not wrong either. (duh)

Jesus did not admonish Martha for BEING Martha. He admonished her for PUSHING Mary to be LIKE HER, and He admonished her for not being interruptable.

For both women in this story, there was MUCH to do. They're hosting an impromptu party of more than a dozen men, probably for more than one meal. They can't order Domino's. They need to straighten up after these guys (I'm assuming quite constantly, ahmmm). They need to keep their bellies full, which means preparing meal after meal and then prepping for the next one to come. They also didn't have microwaves or quick-rise yeast. Ever milk a goat for the breakfast of 12+ hungry men? Me neither. 

So yes, as hostesses, their hands were absolutely full. However. Jesus is not calling Martha away from her tasks. He's calling her heart away from her bitterness about it, and he's calling her heart to treasure what's right in front of her, in the midst of her never-ending checklist. 

As a type-A, control-freak, perfectionist who can get sucked into any task like it's a black hole, I 100% get the inability to not recognize that the God of the universe is sitting in your living room. I'd be exactly the same way. I would get consumed by the to-do list. I'd be a stark raving lunatic trying to make everything perfect before he even showed up. Matter of fact, the whole shindig would have never happened as I melted down immediately beforehand because I found a rogue dirty fork in the sink and NO ONE CARES ABOUT MAKING IT PERFECT LIKE I DO. (We will pretend like this hasn't ever happened before an over-planned birthday party…)

Ultimately Jesus is not calling us to perfection. He's not calling us from our giftings either (as hosting a brood of hungry men is absolutely a spiritual gift). What he was calling Martha to- and what Mary already knew- was a willingness to be INTERRUPTED. (You know: the ability to stop doing what you are doing and instead focus on something that is more significant instead, without being super irrational, angry, or embittered about it). 

He was commissioning us all to reorient our hearts so that the great commission (even inside our own homes) would always take precedence over even very necessary, life-giving tasks. 

Because, as God of the universe, he knew exactly what was coming. Since he knew exactly how short his time was and has an everlasting perspective, he challenged Martha to not get so absorbed in her busyness and to-do list that she sacrificed the blessings of the present for the tyranny of the urgent. He was commissioning us all to reorient our hearts so that the great commission (even inside our own homes) would always take precedence over even very necessary, life-giving tasks. 

So often, the tension between having the presence of mind and gentleness of spirit to be a "Mary" and the tenacity and drive to be a "Martha" leaves us torn right in half- feeling like we are failing at doing either well because our hearts and minds are divided over who we SHOULD be- who we believe that Christ is calling us to be. In this particular story, those of us who tend toward staying busy and accomplishing goals can receive an extra helping of guilt about not being more like Mary. 

I propose an alternative to this tear for us all, my friend. I believe that you likely are a Martha or Mary-type personality already- whether in extreme or not. I believe that you either already tend to put people and relationship first OR put tasks and to-dos as highest priority. I propose that we recognize that it takes ALL KINDS, sweet friends, and God knows this

Jesus did not admonish Martha for BEING Martha. He admonished her for PUSHING Mary to be LIKE HER, and He admonished Martha for not being willing to be interrupted in her rushed busyness. 

She wasn’t interruptable. Even though her to-do list was 100% valid and needful, she wasn’t keeping her spirit open to the gifts all around her. She wasn’t willing to press pause to rest in the good gift staring her in the face.

Rest easy, friend- “Marys” are no better than “Marthas” and vice versa. There is no Enneagram or Meyers-Brigg personality that is “better” than another. “Marys” can let important tasks slip by their notice and end up overwhelmed as much as a “Martha” can allow those tasks to become more important than her people. The only thing that's steadfastly true about our spiritual development is that it will never be complete on this side of heaven. 

But no matter who God made us to be, how our brains are hardwired, or how our personalities are bent, there are two profound truths that we must know: 

1- We are called to actively and prayerfully BEND our personality and submit it to the will of our Heavenly Father, fully empowered by His Spirit. 

2- And as we walk through life doing our thing, as best we can, we must recognize that God requires that we allow interruptions to our agenda.

  • He called Martha to interruption. 

  • He praised Mary for allowing interruption. 

  • He called the wealthy man in Matthew 19:21 to interrupt his plans. 

  • He called each of the disciples to lay aside everything and everyone they knew and follow him. 

be interruptable flatlay.jpg

He told them to lay down whatever it is that was urgent and precious in their life and do something that wasn’t on their agenda. He admonished them to live life with enough faith, enough self-control, enough margin, and enough perspective that even as they kept working and moving forward that they would always have the presence of mind and willingness to lay it all down and see the precious gift/precious person/precious moment, standing right in front of their face.  

He simply called them each to hold loosely to their agenda and be willing to be interrupted. And he calls us to that too.

Want a phone wallpaper to help you remind yourself to set things aside for a moment? Click the image below to download now!

If you love what you read, be sure to enter your email below to receive exclusive, encouraging emails!