Have you ever read the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible (Luke 10:38-42)? Martha is busy preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples while Mary is essentially hanging out with them. Martha is upset with Mary for not helping her, and understandably so! But the story teaches that Martha had the wrong priorities, that we need to learn how to be a Mary instead.
And that sounds fantastic in theory! I would absolutely love to be Mary, forsaking daily duties in favor of sitting at Jesus’ feet. I mean, you don’t have to convince me!
Except…didn’t Jesus and his disciples need to eat?
And what about today? As wives, mothers, employees, students, and more, there are certain things we have to do. So how can we be Mary when our lives demand a Martha?
First, we can re-evaluate our commitments.
Have you heard the saying that a person who fails to plan, plans to fail? The Bible agrees!
Luke 14:28-32 (ESV) says, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.”
Proverbs 13:16 adds, “Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.” The Oxford dictionary defines prudent as “acting with or showing care and thought for the future.” So when we show care and thought for the future, we are acting with knowledge.
But how often do we take on commitments without first counting the cost? A few questions to ask yourself before agreeing to log more volunteer hours at your children’s school or lead that community committee:
- Do I have the time to commit to this? Don’t accept the description of “not much time at all!” Exactly how many hours a week will it require? And don’t forget to include all time required. For example, if I only consider the time that my church small group is meeting in person, I might tell you being a small group leader only requires four hours a month. Except I also spend time checking in with small group members, praying daily over each of them and their families, preparing a lesson plan, securing childcare for our meeting, attending leadership meetings, and more. That brings the monthly total closer to 12 hours.
- Do I have the energy to commit to this? Just because you technically have the time doesn’t mean you have the energy or mental bandwidth to say yes. You might have every Saturday morning free during tee-ball season to act as an assistant coach. But do you actually have the energy and patience to wrangle twelve four-year-olds without it sucking you dry for the rest of the day?
- Does doing this line up with my goals and priorities? Sure, logging overtime at work may place you in a more favorable position for future promotions. But…do you want to be promoted at your job? Do you even like this job? Would the additional time, effort, and stress that comes with promotion be worth the benefit of the raise? Make sure you’re striving toward the things you truly want, and only those things.
- Do I want to do this? We so easily and quickly forget that the answer to this question actually matters! You have limited time, energy, and other resources. So spend them on what matters most to you. (Find more tips to help you stop being so busy here.)
If we pile commitment upon commitment without first gauging our available time and energy (and if those commitments are in line with our priorities), we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
Second, we can say no to things that either don’t advance our priorities or require more than we can give.
There are many good things – work, community activities, even volunteering – in which we can invest our time. But just because something is good or a worthy cause doesn’t mean we’re obligated to partake – or that we have the resources necessary to partake.
I really love how 2 Corinthians 8:12-14 words it: “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.”
The Message version says it this way: “…you do what you can, not what you can’t.” God doesn’t expect us to say yes to everything. We can and should say no when necessary. (This is the start of setting boundaries!)
Matthew 5:37 says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” This verse is focused on taking oaths – don’t say, for example, “by heaven” – but it can also be applied to our elaborating on why we can’t do something. Jesus says that our yes and our no are adequate answers in and of themselves.
And let’s not forget we can also say no to mindlessly scrolling social media, binge-watching tv, and other activities that chip away at our time and energy. These activities aren’t necessarily a bad thing in and of themselves. But they can become a problem when they burn up more time than we’d like or can afford.
Third, we can stop taking on tasks that aren’t ours to complete.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to do most things in our home. I’m also usually the one to take up the tasks others fail to complete at work.
It’s not that I like doing everything myself, but that I feel obligated. I believe if I don’t do it, nobody else will.
In fact, this approach used to feel biblical to me. After all, doesn’t Galatians 6:2 say, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”?
I believed for over 30 years that it was a Christian’s obligation to carry everyone else’s burdens, to carry our cross as Christ did. The problem was that I failed to keep reading.
Galatians 6:4-5 continues, “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”
Now, this doesn’t mean we should only worry about ourselves and our own needs. But it does mean we should allow others to take responsibility for their own load, given them by Christ.
My husband can and should partake in maintaining our household. It’s his home too. And my child is more than capable, and even responsible, for putting away toys and helping to wash the dishes.
My coworker can certainly complete the tasks he or she was hired to perform. And other people are just as capable of stepping into that much-needed volunteer position in the community. It’s okay, and even biblical, to ask more of others when we’re drowning alone in work.
And finally, we can learn to pause tasks when something more important comes up.
Mary recognized when it was time to pause less important things. Jesus said in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
I feel so happy I could die when my house is freshly cleaned, everything in its place, no dog hairs or dust bunnies for miles. But you know what’s more important than having a spotless home? Having a relationship with Jesus.
That means that rather than obsessively wiping smudges off my countertops all day, which I honestly struggle not to do, I let the smudges build throughout the day before doing a nightly wipe down. And I take the time I save to dive into the Bible or prayer for a few minutes.
Sometimes it’s okay to do a good job at work instead of a fantastic job because your child had a hard day and could use a few extra minutes of your time. And sometimes it’s okay to serve spaghetti when you’d rather coordinate a 5-course, Pinterest-worthy meal, because the most important thing is pausing to spend time in fellowship with family and friends instead of spending that much more time in the kitchen.
Sometimes you might need to pause or stop what you’re doing altogether, even when you’re itching to get something done and checked off your list. As you might have guessed, I get on a rampage when I start cleaning my house. And I hate, hate, hate when someone in my family interrupts that workflow.
Except…my five-year-old usually isn’t trying to derail my plans altogether. And she doesn’t usually require much more than a few minutes of my time, a few encouraging words and a hug.
But I wouldn’t know that was all she needed from me if I didn’t pause to find out. When I do take the time to pause, I’m often surprised by how much a pause can accomplish in even a short time.
It may be a lifelong process, learning how to be a Mary. But by being more mindful of our commitments, learning to say no and stop taking on others’ work, and pausing when necessary, we can be more like Mary every day. We’ve got this, friend!
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