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.
This is the famous story of Martha and Mary. Martha is worried about getting the chores, housework, and cooking done, while Mary is more concerned about the spiritual matters.
To be quite honest, I do not like reading this story. It seems like some sort of cruel joke, even though of course I know it isn't. I think about it often. Especially at 5 am when I'm getting up to tend to a needy child, after what seems like 5 minutes of sleep that night. What do you chose when you stayed up until midnight the night before pairing socks so everyone would be able to find a pair the next day? The extra hour of sleep you know you need to make it through the day without losing your sanity before breakfast, or a quiet half hour to read your Bible?
As mothers, especially those of us who have large or ever growing families, who home educate, and generally strive to take our calling as mothers serious - we have no choice but to be Martha for many hours each day. Someone is always needing to be fed, which involves meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, doing dishes, etc. Someone is always having a minor or major emergency that needs our immediate attention. Someone is always in need of a diaper change, a band-aid, a face wiped, or other legitimate physical needs. If the children are awake, they need us.
It is easy to condemn Martha, but I wonder what our families would think if we all just decided to lock ourselves into our bedrooms all day tomorrow studying the Bible (the modern-day equivalent of sitting at Jesus' feet and hearing His words).
A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.
Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.
He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.
As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?' She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?' 'Yes,' was his incredulous reply. She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.'
It doesn't appear that Martha in the Bible had any children living at home. She was quite literally trying to serve Jesus, which is good and necessary. In many ways, serving our family IS serving God:
And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.(Matthew 10:42)
Boy, do I have a reward coming to me for this one! Seems like someone is ALWAYS asking me for a cup of water - especially once they are in bed for the night. If there is a separate reward for sweeping up the shards from broken water glasses, I will definitely score big.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.(Matthew 25:34-40)
In our house, I do a WHOLE LOT of feeding hungry "least of these". And yes, the little ones daily are naked and need me to clothe them, and the older ones need me to provide them with fresh clothes. And when they get sick? You guessed it - it's mostly me who cares for them.
I think sometimes we forget to think of our immediate family members as also being brothers/sisters in Christ. For example, if I told you that last week I made a meal for a family in our church that just had a new baby, you would think of that as an act of kindness toward another fellow Christian, and as a way to serve God since obviously, we serve God only indirectly by serving actual human beings. If I told you that I made the same exact meal for our family, except three times as much of it, nobody would think anything of it.
In our world, many "callings" are considered noble and worthwhile, just as long as we are not bestowing them on our own families. Teachers, for instance, by and large are hailed as hardworking, underpaid, selfless, noble, and giving. But home educators often get accused of being lazy, selfish, and probably abusive - even though statistically, the exact opposite is actually true.
A five-star chef on TV is a celebrity, even though many of us moms who love cooking could easily outdo him/her, while also working within a budget and providing more nutritious food. Working at a daycare, watching upward of a half dozen children is heroic, but having six children of your own is irresponsible. If someone were to ask me what my job is, and I told them I am a professional medical translator working for a major pharmaceutical company, they would be really impressed by that. If I told them I am a mom, they would not think anything of that, even though the latter is BY FAR the most demanding, stressful job I have ever had - translating is just what I do for FUN!
Living in a world like that, it is easy to think about how much we could serve God if only we were not tied to the house all day, busy with the kids. In reality, doing that IS what God wants us to do. How better to serve God than by obeying Him?
When God lists the qualifications for a godly older woman, He describes her this way:I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
Notice, contrary to what some seem to think, the Bible doesn't say "if she have brought up strangers, if she have lodged children" - the mantra of the daycare sellouts. And washing the saints' feet? I do that daily with our little ones - in fact, I bathe them head to toe.
Serving our families in the role God designed for us is serving God.
But back to the story at the beginning, Martha was also serving God - quite literally, as he was over to their house for dinner. And yet the Bible tells us she was "cumbered about much serving."
Jesus' response to her is that Mary has it right because she has "chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." And maybe that is the key: that serving God/others is not enough. We cannot just give out, or rather, have things taken away from us as Jesus put it.
Sure, our families need to eat, but they will be hungry again and again and again. If we mop the floors, they will have something spilled on them within the hour. If we finish all the laundry, it will only pile up again. If we are hoping to derive our sense of peace and accomplishment (as opposed to feeling cumbered) by getting our work done, and serving our families and others, we will run ourselves ragged and never get there. That's when it's time to sit down, and take in Jesus' words (i.e. the Bible), because nobody can take that from us.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.