Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver is subtitled, ‘finding intimacy with God in the busyness of life.’ As with many books I read, it was the recommendation of a friend who I respect. I found it challenging and helpful in drawing me back to the things in life which really matter. We all have different lives with different choices, pressures, situations, challenges and opportunities. But I think all of us also have the tendency to feel overwhelmed by the number of things that we feel need to be done. Maybe this can be very much a problem among homeschooling parents, who have made choices which prioritise time with the children, additional hours seeking out and researching materials, time to review and plan lessons and activities, and time to carefully appraise the development of each individual child. Whilst all of us who have chosen this route will agree that the investment and times of personal sacrifice are more than worthwhile for the wellbeing of our children and our families, I am sure I am not alone in feeling guilty at times for not having more time to spend doing other ‘good’ things – being more involved in church activities, community events, spending time with individuals who are facing trials or challenges, and so on. Sometimes I laugh, and say that I could have six different lives, and do six different things, and be equally fulfilled in all of them. In one, I would be a writer. In another, I would be a full-time stay at home homeschooling mum of a large family. Another life would be setting up a Christian cafe, aiming to provide a welcoming environment for those needing refreshment and encouragement. In another, I would be a medical academic, and still another life might be the missionary in rural Africa. I can’t do all of these things, and neither would one person be expected to! But still, it is tempting to feel guilty for all the things that you cannot achieve, rather than focussing on what is most important and doing that wholeheartedly.
The book is based on an encounter between Jesus and two sisters, Martha and Mary, who had welcomed Him and His disciples into their home. Martha was extremely busy, and increasingly frustrated at her sister who was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him talking. Eventually, she snapped, ‘Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!’ Instead of agreeing with this as a reasonable request, Jesus gently rebuked her, pointing out that of all the many things that could be done, only one thing was truly necessary, and that was the ‘better part’ that Mary had chosen. It is a short, simple account of a conversation, but one which teaches us much. I must confess that I can feel more like Martha at times, sometimes getting irritated and frustrated at others who don’t seem to realise how hard I am working to try and make things look simple. Sometimes I feel like a swan, paddling away frantically beneath the surface in order to glide smoothly, seemingly effortlessly, across a lake. As I read Joanna Weaver’s exposition on this passage, I was given a better view into my own heart, but more importantly than that, I came to see and appreciate more of the tender, compassionate and gracious heart of our Lord.
Jesus bids us, ‘Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ And yet, it is somehow easier to see God as some kind of taskmaster who expects more and more of us. As I read, prayed and examined my own heart, I came to see how some of the pressures and conflicts I face are actually of my own doing, and a consequence of not spending time in that most important place, listening quietly to our Lord guiding us in the way He would have us go. I found that liberating. I realised how when I am busy, often my time of prayer and reflection on the Bible is easy to cut out, and yet it is when I am most hard-pressed, it is then that I really need that time. I was also reminded to think of the relationship I have with Jesus, rather than seeing devotional time as simply another ‘task’ to get through in a day, rather seeing it as a time spent with a closest friend; something to be cherished, eagerly anticipated and relished. It is a fundamental change of attitude, and rather than being a burden and something to feel guilty about, it is a wonderful gift, a privilege and a shame to miss out on.
There were some helpful checklists in the book, almost ‘spot checks’ on where you might be up to in your own life. These were helpful. I realised that the times when I feel most like Martha – wanting to be critical of others who I see as not working hard enough or not appreciating me (!) – are in fact the times when I need more than anything to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His voice. Rather than working harder and harder and getting into a frenzy, there is a time to stop and prayerfully consider what actually needs to be done, and what can wait or be done by somebody else, or even not at all. I reflected upon how there is no point in achieving long lists of tasks if these are done with an attitude which does not honour God, and thereby nullifies the main reason for doing some of those in the first place. So, for example, if I have some friends round for an evening with the aim of encouraging them spiritually, seeking to spur them on towards love and good deeds, there is no point in having a spotless house, delicious gourmet food, all the children tucked up asleep in bed, and candles and flowers on the table if I am so frazzled by the preparation that I am grumpy and irritable all evening and completely miss the opportunities to encourage those friends. A similar example could be given for many things we do in life.