I gave a talk not long ago, to a group of women at a Saturday luncheon. I began with a survey, and asked, “Who needs to stop at the supermarket after today’s conference? Anybody leave the dryer going as you left your home? How about the dishwasher? Who needs to iron clothes for tomorrow? Who still has to make dinner? Will any of you be helping their kids with homework this evening? Anyone planning to stop at the gas station? How about some Visiting Teaching? Anyone preparing a lesson they have to teach tomorrow?” Hands shot up all over the room.
Life is crammed full of things we have to do, isn’t it? And most of these are good things; God would be proud of us for cooking meals, doing laundry, and helping those around us. Maybe this is why so many of us identify with Martha in that famous story at the end of Chapter 10 in Luke:
“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 until her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Boy, do we all feel like Martha sometimes! And even more so when we have company. But it’s not bad to be hospitable, to cook for guests, to straighten the house, right?
The key is that Martha was cumbered about. This means weighed down and burdened. Troubled. Distracted by her tasks. Her preoccupation with hostessing is even mentioned twice, lest we, too, are so distracted while reading that we miss it.
Mary, meanwhile, sat at Jesus’ feet like a disciple—something a man would do in those days– and learned from him. If you have to choose which activity matters most, few of us would argue that anything is more important than learning at the feet of the Savior.
But, like Martha, we’d want the most important guest you could ever have – the Messiah!—to step into a clean, inviting home. We’d want to serve him our best cooking. We’d want to go all out. How could we not be a nervous wreck, bustling around and feeling as if we are this close to fainting? We definitely empathize with Martha.
So what’s the take-away from this story? First of all, the incident does not imply that Mary never does any chores, or that Martha is completely lacking in spirituality; it’s a snapshot of their lives, not a full movie. After all, Martha’s the one who acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, in John’s retelling of the story of their brother, Lazarus. Martha had great faith.
What we are to learn is priorities. When anything distracts us from coming closer to Christ—even if those distractions are good things—they must be set aside for the better and best things.
Keeping up appearances is one of those lesser things. Perfectionism is one of those lesser things. It can pull us into a skewed view of what’s important. Let’s face it– no one’s going to remember the perfect inseams you sewed for the wise men’s clothes in the Christmas play. Nobody is going to mention your clean house at your funeral (I hope).
Another distraction is all the extras we cram into our lives: Hobbies, interests, TV, socializing, sports, computer time, work. And they’re all good things UNLESS they start to dominate. It’s a lot like cooking. Adding spice can be a good thing, until it starts to dominate. When our extra-curricular activities begin to control our schedule, we’ve lost our grip on our own time, and can no longer devote appropriate amounts to scripture study, meditation, or prayer.
What if these extra activities are service? Honestly, I sometimes wonder if, when LDS women hear any news at all, our first impulse is to preheat the oven. Seriously—the birth of a baby, a death, we get right busy and bring in a meal. But we can even overdo this, just as Martha overdid what I picture as trays of baklava.
A third tug on our ability to stay Christ-centered is exhaustion. We cannot grow spiritually if we’re so tired we can’t even keep our eyes open. Satan would love to keep you good and tired, and convince you that all your running around is doing good. All that burning the candle at both ends is a sign that you’re busy (the new fabulous). If Lucifer could have his way, busy-ness would become a Young Women Value. But remember what President Uchtdorf said, in October of 2012: “… sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as though being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.”
Self-pity is the fourth distraction. When we stay focused on offenses, grudges, past hurts, and failures, we distance ourselves from church, gospel activities, uplifting friends– everything that could help us come closer to the Lord. It’s as if he came to visit and we’re in our bedroom, pouting. I like to assume that people have repented, whether they’ve come to me and apologized or not. It makes life happier and frees my time to think about greater things than score-keeping.
We often feel sorry for ourselves because of circumstances, as well. Everyone suffers disappointment. As the saying goes, “there’s pain in every pew.” Look at your address book and the problems your own closest friends have. Get busy lightening the load for someone else and your own problems will appear much smaller.
I challenged the women at that conference to get a stack of 3×5 cards, and write, “Why am I doing this?” on each of them. Then post them on the bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your card, the refrigerator, all over the place. And examine your motives for the things you do. Can you consecrate these tasks to the Lord, or are you doing things to be seen of men?
Let’s say you put one on the washing machine. I’m doing laundry for my family. That’s a noble activity, a necessity for clean living, and an act of love. How about taping a card inside the lid of your car trunk? I’m donating these bags of clothing to the poor. Another honorable move. One could be taped to your computer monitor. I’m spending too many hours pinning cute ideas when my kids are in the next room and need me. Okay, there’s where the card serves as a reminder to refocus.
We’ve been told to stand in holy places, and we can actually do it as we drive, work, and fulfill our daily responsibilities. That holy place can be a bubble that surrounds us, and helps us consecrate all our activities to the Lord, and to bringing those around us to Christ. Even buying groceries or doing laundry can become a sacred experience.
Let’s go back to Mary and Martha. After listening to Jesus, do you think Mary just sat? She probably put his teachings into action. And Martha probably took off her apron and joined them. The key is to put first things first. I love that saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That’s a Mary-and-Martha message if ever there was one.
Sometimes that means you bring store-bought cookies to the school party. Sometimes that means you say no to a ballgame or a barbecue. Sometimes that means you won’t sign up for that extra gym class or that girls’ getaway. You won’t lose a single true friend. And none of those sacrifices will keep you out of the Celestial Kingdom.
What if we started and ended our day with Christ? What if we had lunch with Christ, or took a walk with Christ? When we re-order our priorities we become the ones in charge, and are no longer at the mercy of the blowing winds.
Let’s choose to be like Mary, and let the Martha tasks fall where they may. They’ll get done in time. Or they won’t. And that’s okay, too.
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Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.