I can't remember what I was reading that started this train of thought, but it's been something I've been pondering over the last few weeks. Here is the scripture passage which crossed my mind:
Luke 10: 38 - 42
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
You know what I love about the scriptures? How sometimes a few short verses can create an entire scene in my mind (probably partly because I'm a filmmaker). This scene comes to life in my mind. Sisters Mary and Martha, who are followers of Jesus, have been honored to host Him an his disciples at their home. Liken this to yourself: you get a phone call from Salt Lake that the prophet is going to drop in for a visit with any followers who would like to come and listen to him.
I know that my inner "Martha" would kick in right away - there's the house to clean and food to cook and treats to bake and where on earth will everyone sit and... and... and...
(By the way - I think it's quite appropriate that homemaker icon Martha Stewart shares the same name as one of the heroines of this bible passage!)
So there is Martha, working like crazy just to get things ready. And once everyone shows up, she certainly doesn't think her hostess job finished. She's probably got tons of cooking still to do (could you ever truly anticipate the numbers of people who would flood to your home for such an occasion?), making sure everyone's cup is full of water or wine, making sure people are comfortable, that there are enough places to perch, plus all that dreaded small talk with neighbours and strangers alike...
Is it any wonder Martha got caught up in it all? The NIV version reads "Martha got caught up in all the preparations that had to be made." I think there would be few of us women who wouldn't be caught up in the preparations.
Now, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to do what Martha does next. I think it shows how good friends she and her family were with Jesus. Me, I would have just continued to work like crazy, hoping everything would go well. Martha sees her sister sitting and listening to Jesus instead of helping out in host duties. Martha goes right to Jesus and complains about her sister: "Tell my sister to help me!" I can imagine the exhaustion that Martha felt that led her to openly chastise and complain about her sister to Jesus. I doubt it was sibling rivalry or feelings of ill-will; more than likely Martha was simply exhausted.
But Jesus lovingly helps her see a different point of view. "Martha, Martha," he speaks. Even just those two words are beautiful. I hear him saying her name as lovingly as a parent would to a child who is frustrated and tired and feeling helpless. There is no exasperation in this. He can see her intentions are good in wanting to serve the Lord and his disciples. But Jesus points out that Mary has realized that the opportunity to sit at the Master's feet and learn is much more important than making sure the food and wine are abundant and top quality,that the house is free from every speck of dust. "You are careful and troubled (worried and upset) about many things. But only one thing is needed." Jesus is helping her to see that coming and sitting at his feet, listening to his words, learning of him - this is the one thing that will bring us joy in life.
It's not that Martha's work isn't important. I don't think our husbands and children would be impressed if we stopped doing housework and cooking and caring for our homes. But I've noticed that if my priorities are straight, if I'm putting my learning of the Lord first, then the rest of the things fall into place. My housework burden is lifted, lighter.
And so some days I channel my inner Martha, some days my inner Mary. There is a time for each thing, and sometimes it is time to meditate, and sometimes it is time to roll up my sleeves and get to work. So while the cleaning needs to get done, I need to make sure I'm not getting caught up, worried and upset, over the things that aren't the most important.