When we hear the story of Martha and Mary, the sisters who were such close friends of Jesus’, we most likely know which one we are.
I have always been a Martha, and like most Marthas, perhaps a little smug about it. We Marthas might roll our eyes when this gospel comes up, picturing Mary sitting on the floor listening to Jesus and feeling Martha’s slow burn at her unhelpful sister. Martha was the one who got things done. Those of us who are Marthas suspect deep down that they somehow translated the ancient words incorrectly and that instead of stopping Martha from her frantic pace in the kitchen, Jesus was really saying to her, “Way to go, Martha. If you weren’t running around getting things done, we wouldn’t have dinner tonight or a place to gather.”
Martha was the one who would argue with her dear friend, Jesus, and complain to him about things that seemed unfair. She had a spark to her that I admire.
My Martha life has always been guided by To-Do lists and priorities. I am all about productivity, tidying things up and closing the cupboard doors that stand open. I am efficient and self-reliant.
And then I got sick.
This summer, after a small but nagging headache that lasted a few weeks, I found myself in the emergency room of the hospital. I had a bleeding on my brain. I was in intensive care for six days. My head was shaved and I had surgery and was sent home ”¦ to do nothing.
I have spent the last four months at home, recovering, waiting for my energy to return. For the first time in 36 years, I don’t go into an office every day. I don’t “do” much of anything.
Day by day, week by week, I can feel my energy slowly returning, but in the meantime I have been cared for tirelessly by my dear husband. I had meals delivered by a dozen people in our parish – some I hardly knew. People sent flowers and cards, letters and plants. For the first time, I wasn’t the Do-er but the Receiver.
And for these past months, I have been Mary. Sitting quietly. Reading. Watching my husband put together every meal. Seeing my colleague at the office carry on with our work. Receiving.
It has been a wonderful experience not to be rushing all the time; to take naps a few times a day and to be what I might have called “unproductive.” Now I have a new respect for the art of “restoring” the depleted resource of my energy. I pay more attention now. I watched my summer garden in fascination and have really noticed the spectacular fall leaves.
Mary listened to Jesus as she sat on the floor, while Martha just picked up the general ideas — she was so very busy with her preparations. Now, after all of these months at home and contemplating that story, I understand that I didn’t get it right.
I don’t think Jesus was telling Martha to stop everything she did. I think he just missed her. He loved her fiery intelligence but wanted her not to be so distracted. He invited her to sit next to him and simply be with him. He wasn’t looking for her productivity or her finished To-Do list.
And he isn’t checking my list either. I won’t find a higher place in heaven because I have finished more or been more productive. Jesus is simply calling me to sit next to him and listen and not be distracted by Doing. He wants me to notice how much he loves me and to relax deeply into that love.
I know that as my energy returns, so will my To-Do lists. But I want to keep my life a little slower. I want to pay more attention to the world around me. And I want to sit on the floor next to Jesus and to lean back comfortably on his shoulder, basking in his love, his stories and his laugh, and remember what a graced life this is.
Thank you for sharing this part of your story. I loved it and others’ responses. They all speak to my experience as a retiree who still hasn’t fully let go of my younger over-committed schedule. Maybe one day I can take an afternoon nap when I am healthy and feel fine about it. There’s hope for all of us. 🙂
What an inspirational message – I am SUCH a Martha and feel so guilty on those occasions when I actually sit down to be ‘quiet’ and look around at others who are still busy – ‘Mary listened whilst Martha just picked up the general ideas’ has really spoken to me – and ‘Jesus missed her’ has brought me to my knees. In the years since you first wrote this blog I hope that your health is now fully restored, Your witness is far reaching, Blessings to you and your family
You have given me a new insight in ‘ ..he just missed her… And wanted her to simply be with him ‘…
I connect with you as a Martha of productivity and to do list… I used to be like that till I nearly burn out. Since then, I set aside a day a month to do nothing, to just have Me time – to read, to relax, take a slow breakfast and experience it as my first time eating the oatmeal, the only time I am eating the oatmeal, the last time I am eating the oatmeal,and considering how the oats had come from a seed to to be food for me .. Realizing that everything in front of me is God’s grace.
Today is one such day. I feel the sun ‘s warmth on my skin, the hard concrete pavement beneath my feet, the young bud that springs overnight, the different shades of green leaves, the cool evening breeze blowing …
Reading and contemplating the gospel at 5am and attending 630am mass is a great breakfast for my soul…
Reading your article reminds me that Jesus wants me simply to be with Him. I had never thought of Jesus missing me. You have reminded me that I miss Jesus in my busy Martha-ness .
Dearest Maureen..You have been on my mind these days, as we both prepare for our journey to Chicago for Thanksgiving. I so loved your words. They were forwarded to me from Jean via Maureen, and since I am in my own little world, I would have missed them. Thank you Maureen. You make me laugh and cry all at the same time. Love you.
I always struggled with the Mary/Martha gospel and I could never quite understand it all.This blog gave me new insight and I just love the sentence,” I THINK HE JUST MISSED HER”. Jesus might have been a frequent visitor to the Bethany home and just wanted Martha to spend a little more time with Him. How he loved her!
Thank you for writing about your experience and may you continue your healing “in God’s time”. Peace to your heart. ‘Martha’ Suzanne
I am stunned to have happened upon your post. I am preparing for a presentation on a retreat this weekend that I am supposed to give for students at Loyola Chicago. I am also stuck in bed with terrible vertigo and no energy. I don’t even know if I can go on the retreat and I’m still preparing just in case I can go to make sure “things get done.” How much trust does it take to be like Mary? Enough to believe that God will get things done without me. No, God doesn’t need me, but God wants me.
I feel called to turn off this computer and go sit down with Jesus now, thanks for the reminder. I’ll make sure to ask that he keeps a place waiting near him for you too. Blessings of good health on you Maureen!
I am sure the “right thing” happened with your retreat – either you felt better and made it – or you didn’t and life continued anyway! I hope your vertigo is gone by now. Thanks for your prayers.
Good Lord, Maureen. I’ve just now read your post and am uncharacteristically without words other than “amen” to all that you’ve discovered and hope for the future.
Smiled with recognition at your characterization of Martha-esque smugness and the slow burn experience.
Prayers ascending…and I mean it!
Oh, Meredith, thank you! I am really thankful for your good wishes and your prayers. And I hope you are a happy newlywed as we move into Advent.
Thank you for your honest sharing here, Maureen. My prayers are with you for continued recovery.
Thank you, Denise. I always promise people that I will pray for them – and i do – but I never dreamed of how powerful it was to be at the receiving end of that. Thank you so much for your offer of prayers!
Thanks for sharing, Maureen–what a great meditation on living in faith in sickness and in health. My prayers to you and your husband!
Thank you, Tim. When we got married 36 years ago, “sickness and health” was more abstract than it is now as we age.
Thanks so very much for your prayers.
Mary, My husband and I experienced a similar ‘incident’ some years ago. He was a healthy, vigorous, busy, corporate manager. On a sunny Saturday morning he experienced a seizure, a bleeding in the brain, and surgery for removal of an ageoma. Then there were months of recovery. He experienced some of the same problems and blessings you recount, initial fear about not being the same man as before, weakness and profound tiredness, frustration over needing so much help for small things. But also, he learned to be gracious when well-intentioned friends and relatives turned to me for information instead of talking to him directly. He learned patience and humility when those around him either spoke loudly as if he had lost his hearing, or whispered about him as if to keep bad news from filtering through. The blessings were equally as intense. He would make a full recovery, Praise God. I had him pretty much to myself, no calls from work, constant fussing over him, reading Moby Dick aloud to him, making his favorite foods to tempt his appetite. Every morning was a joy to wake up, every evening was a pleasant ritual of tucking him into bed, finding his glow-in-the-dark rosary, prayers, a kiss goodnight, and God willing, do it again tomorrow. It’s been years since the ‘incident’ (we call it that because we never knew why it occurred, just that it changed our lives in a moment), and I can look back and smile that out of something so scary and awful, God brought about a strenthening of our married bond. Our recent days have been more mundane. The ‘incident’ is no longer sharp and scary. Rounded over by time, it is mostly a memory. God’s blessings continue.
God bless you and your husband. May your recovery be quick and complete. See you back here.
Patti, thanks for sharing your incredible journey with your husband. The image of reading him Moby Dick and you both finding the grace in all of it is a gift. God bless you both!
Maureen, thank you so much for expressing my journey as I have been Martha so busy with doing and yet, the longing in my heart was to be Mary and just be with Jesus; however, I felt that I needed to get things done. I am learning “to be” rather than always doing and it is such a blessing.
God bless you for using your time of recuperation to be with Jesus and to share that journey with others. May God’s healing hand restore you to health in God’s time.
Thanks so much, Lynda. “In God’s time” is a great phrase as I am learning it is not MY time or even the time the doctor’s predict. Thanks for your prayers.
Thanks, Bob. I am looking forward to blogging here again soon.
Thank you, that was a beautiful sharing. The phrase, “Jesus just wanted her to be there…” struck me. Awesome.
Take care of yourself!! Hope to see many more reflections as your health returns.