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Lessons Learned in the Martha-Mary Matrix

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By Kelly Wahlquist (May 30, 2013)
Not even three seconds after I hit the send button to let people know about an upcoming event, my friend Marta had emailed back, "Did you make a Facebook Evite yet?"

Marta... Marta... Marta.... What do you mean, "Did I make a Facebook Evite yet?"

Don't you know I just zipped that last email about the upcoming event off quickly so I could get to my cut-and-color appointment 10 minutes late, race to my 14-year-old's lacrosse game, leave early to bee-line it to the batting cages to pick up my son, find him food, drop him off at home, throw in a load of whites, pick up my 17-year-old from play practice, drive her to her babysitting job, pick up toilet paper and syrup at the grocery store, dash home to feed the dog, and sit down to frantically write this article that is due in ... umm ... three hours! And all on a night that I promised myself I was going to let go of my inner "Martha" and connect with my inner "Mary."

So how am doing so far?

Yeah ... yeah ... yeah ... I know. Martha has snubbed out Mary again, and that can be such a discouraging feeling — especially on days when I tell myself I am going to schedule time to just sit and pray.

For review: In the gospels, when Jesus visits the home of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, in Bethany, Martha shows herself to be anxious and distracted while Mary keeps her eyes fixed upon the Lord (see Lk 10:39-42 and Jn 12:1-3).

When I find myself like Martha, overcome by daily activities that cut into my time with the Lord, I can easily beat myself up and conclude that I'm the worst disciple of Christ, ever! And it gets worse. Truth be told, I like my inner Martha, busy though she may be. I am comfortable with her. Oftentimes, I welcome the distractions she brings, because when I sit with my inner Mary, I find myself fidgeting or wondering what I'm going to make for dinner, or I'm lamenting over all of the things I could be getting done.

Sadly, embarrassingly, I can't even concentrate on prayer. "I am the worst disciple, ever!" It is at these moments when I hear, "Kelly, Kelly, Kelly, you are anxious and troubled about many things." Yep, Lord, you got me pegged there. Then I hear the soft gentle voice of Jesus saying, "One thing is needful" (see Lk 10:41), and my heart settles because I know that just being with Him is enough.

In other words, I need not worry that I am fidgety or that my prayer isn't good enough. I am with Him. I need not fret over the fact that beef stroganoff has entered my mind; I'll acknowledge it might be a great dinner option and go back to rest in Him. I need not worry over what activities I've put on hold. Discipleship sometimes requires that tasks be suspended while the relationship is nurtured. All I need to do is keep my eyes on Jesus.

It is at times like this when I remind myself that Jesus liked His "Martha," too. In fact, he loved her. John 11:5 begins with, "Now Jesus loved Martha." I imagine He loved seeing her live her many virtues such as hospitality, kindness, and a deep faith. I think many misunderstand His call to her to recognize that she was anxious about many things as a reprimand to her for being busy serving. Jesus didn't chide Martha for the fact that she was being hospitable. He opened her eyes to the fact that many troubles distracted her from keeping her eyes on Him. He pretty much said, "Martha, eyes on Me." And get this, not only was it a beautiful lesson for Martha, it seems to have spurred a desire in the disciples to want to know how they, too, could find that down time, how they could suspend their tasks and work on their relationship with God. Indeed, in the next chapter, St. Luke tells us "one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray ...'" As a mom, I know this type of teaching all too well. You teach a lesson to a child in earshot of the others who, too, need to learn that very lesson.

Jesus, the ultimate teacher, was successful in His lesson that day with all audiences. When we see Martha again, she proves her eyes are now on Jesus, meaning she trusts Him. She greets Jesus on the road (again a beautiful act of hospitality) and says, "And even now I know whatever you ask from God, God will give you" (Jn 11:22). She goes on to say, "Yes, Lord: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world" (Jn 11:27).

At the beginning of the story, the Lord saw Martha's troubled heart, and now she has her eyes fixed on Him, and those troubles seem to be replaced with a boldness of faith, a complete trust in Him, a knowledge of the "good portion" (Lk 11:42). Martha learned to let go of the troubles, forego some of the tasks to rest in the Lord, yet she still continued to live out her marvelous virtues. She still greeted the Lord on the road, and in John 12:2 we see she continued to serve Him supper. The difference is she now had a balance between her active and contemplative life, because she kept her eyes on Jesus.

So now that the kids are fed and tucked into bed and this article is coming to a close, I am going to go put my eyes on Jesus, and just sit with Him, and no matter what distractions enter my mind, I'm going to stay put and know that even the effort is bound to make me a good disciple of Christ. That's because discipleship sometimes requires that tasks be suspended while the relationship is nurtured. So last load of laundry, consider your trip to the dryer suspended!


Kelly Wahlquist is the assistant director of the Evangelization and Development Office for Parish Evangelization for the Association of Marian Helpers in Stockbridge, Mass., where she works for the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

She manages and advises for the Hearts Afire Parish-based Programs for the New Evangelization. Visit allheartsafire.org.

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Ann - May 30, 2013

Great article! So true.

Kandy - May 30, 2013

Thank you Kelly, I needed this today. I am very much a Martha! Busy and easily distracted! Especially today, St. Patrick's of Cedar Creek, Oak Grove, MN is Consecrating 18 faithful souls and Reconsecrating 4 sisters in Mary. Lots of little details to manage and yet the most important work has been done - the acceptance of 22 individuals to live their lives in Christ through Mary. God Bless you and Fr. Gaitley for all you do!

Regina Wright - May 30, 2013

Thoroughly enjoyed this article! It is so easy to get caught up in everything that we need to get done, that we forget the most important part is keeping our eyes on Him. Very grateful to have seen this today! God bless!

Mary - May 31, 2013

The picture captures it all! Love it.

Thank you.

marylouise - Jun 1, 2013

very nice article - thank you

Judy K - Jun 1, 2013

Ah, so true! But I am definitely not a Martha. I am retired so my time is pretty much my own. And I wish my problems were distractions. I know well about feeling myself to be an awful disciple. My problem, I fall asleep on Him all the time. Whether it is the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, meditation, I fall asleep. Spiritual directors have told me that I could do no better than to fall asleep in the arms of the Beloved. But it makes me feel awful, that I cannot stay awake with Him for sometimes even 15 minutes. Perhaps this is the cross He wishes me to bear. Maybe it is my road to holiness. I sure hope so.