The Martha Complex
I have struggled with what I can only name as the Martha Complex. I have often spent my time spinning my wheels and running around like a chicken with its head cut off “serving” the Lord. My idea of serving was completely distorted and included “doing” instead of just being. I wanted to do more for God as if I was earning His love, attention and grace. I wanted to do more for people to show my love for God through my actions. I was making a huge mistake and misstep. I had to ask really ask myself, “Who am I really serving, God or myself?” I have found myself making demands from God and including a list of all I had done and asking the same question that Martha asked, “Lord, don’t you care?”
We can learn a lot from Martha and Mary. We live in a world with more Martha’s than Mary’s. Let’s refresh on the short story with a big lesson.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42 NIV)
Let’s first look at what Martha did:
- She opened her home to Jesus.
- She was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
- Asked Jesus if He cared that her sister had left her to do all the work herself.
- Made a demand from Jesus; “Tell her to help me!”(vs. 40)
- She was worried and upset about many things.
Now let’s look at the opposite approach Mary took:
- She sat at the Lords feet listening to what He said.
- Did the one thing that was needed.
- She chose what was better.
My initial reaction looking at the two lists above is that Martha did a lot more but was left with no peace, while Mary did less and yet was thoroughly able to be worry free and at peace basking in the presence of her Savior. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the latter of these two ladies.
Are we distracted by all the work we are doing? If we are, it will only leave us feeling cheated, frustrated, overlooked, unappreciated and/or jealous. Did Jesus ask Martha to do all those things she was doing? Where did we get this attitude of always having to go and do? The world. The world tells us that we must always be going and doing, and if we are not then we will be unfulfilled and lazy. As Kingdom people, we should know better. The Bible is very clear on this:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:9 NIV)
My favorite part of the story is the way in which Jesus responds to Martha. Jesus saw that Martha was upset, and He addressed her concern and complaint compassionately. He did not get angry and dismiss her, but instead calmly acknowledged her and explained what the priority was. He gave Martha a heart and attitude check, but in the most lovingly way possible. It makes me fall even more in love with Jesus. Even when we are acting childishly and demanding things while wallowing in self-pity, the Lord is still so kind and gentle with us. He is the most patient and loving father.
What can we learn from Martha?
- We know she was hospitable and loved Jesus because she opened her home to Him with no questions asked.
- She was a hard worker, but overlooked the most important things; time with Jesus and listening to what He had to say. Time with Jesus trumps everything else.
- Her worries multiplied when she was doing too much and if she would have instead sat at the feet of Jesus, those worries would have dissipated. A distracted heart will leave you anxious and out of tune with what Jesus may be trying to tell you.
- Our attitude and hearts priority should be continually asking, “Jesus, what do you want me to do?”
Our proper perspective should always be this:
“Salvation isn’t about what I do; it’s about what Jesus did.”- Joanna Weaver