Today we continue our Women of the Gospels series with a guest post from an incredibly talented writer I only recently discovered. D.L. Mayfield—who blogs here and contributes to Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency (read this one!) and Deeper Story—writes about her adventures in following Jesus with consistent wit, vulnerability, color, and grace. Along with her cute husband and cute baby, she is currently on an experiment of downward mobility, seeking the mercy of God and grace in the community. She is learning to be more gracious with her thanks, even when she is served goat liver. Follow her on Twitter here.
Today she takes on Mary’s sister Martha. Enjoy!
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
When I was young, I was quiet, introverted, longing to be alone. I had two wild, fierce sisters who overshadowed me in every area: artistic abilities, physical strength, social graces. I found my identity in being quiet, unseen, deeply spiritual. I read books, immersed myself in worlds of fantasy, daydreamed. I prayed to Jesus, all the time.
In college, I came out of my shell in a burst, all the books and travels and thoughts I had spilling out in paragraphs, full of more certainty and emotion than I was even aware of.
After college, my ideas turned into practice, and life marched on in a series of how to be the best possible Christian, with a social justice flair (eschew money, buy fair trade, advocate for social justice causes, create programs for the needy in my neighborhood). As I started to find my identity in these ways of living, I discovered a hidden truth: it feels awesome to live a righteous life on paper. Living in low-income housing, teaching free literacy classes to refugees, setting up basketball camps for bored inner-city kids: all of it had a few costs for me personally, sure, but the holy buzz of pats on the back from friends and church people, and the feeling that I was the only person really getting what Jesus was saying--this more than made up for doing without.
This is sustaining, for a while. We can all be clanging gongs, marching around doing the work of the kingdom without grace, living for a very temporal affirming reaction. But eventually, the accolades go away, the people you were intending to save dismiss you, the volunteers you mobilized drop out, and you find yourself, alone, in the kitchen, cooking a meal for Jesus that tastes like ash in your mouth.
Oh Martha, I became you, when I thought I was being Mary all along. I imagine you, imagine myself, exerting our savior complexes on the one and only actual Christ. It would almost be laughable, if it weren’t all so tragic.
I know what happened Martha, because it happened to me too. I see your desire to single-handedly fix all the problems (feeding the disciples, cleaning the sheets, acquiring health permits, doing volunteer background checks), your deep-down desire to do good. How this desire, left on its own, morphed into a series of programs and activities that ultimately kept you from Jesus. I see how we got confused about it all, and took the easy route of fixing problems instead of becoming engaged with the lives of those around us. How we found our safety and security in doing, and eventually became brittle with the loneliness of trying to become the savior, instead of listening to him.
I do find comfort in this: Jesus doesn’t shame you. He calls you by name, twice (“Martha, Martha”, the first time cutting through your heart, the second time healing it). He gets to the root of all your existential angst, and he shows that there is no need for the amount of space you carve out for anxiety, worry, righteous indignation.
Instead, paradoxically, it turns out we find Jesus when we sit down, when we fall at his feet and listen. This is, he says, the very best thing, and it can’t be taken away from us unless we do it ourselves. The busyness of the savior complex, our quick-response culture, even our desire to do good with the limited amount of time that we have--can take Jesus, his love and his grace, away from us. But he wants us, Martha, and he likes us even when we aren’t saving anyone. We are just his children, the ones he knows by name, and he wants to be with us.
We also find him when we sit with others. When we stop being “missional” and “incarnational” and instead fully engage with those around us. This means less programs, Martha, and more time letting people cook for you every once in a while (and being gracious with your thanks). If you are anything like me, this will be very hard for you. Your life won’t look good on paper any more, you won’t have very many concrete jewels in your proverbial crown to grasp. But I can promise you this: when you stop trying to fix everything, and when you allow the words of Jesus to find you, affirm you, gently bring you back to him, you won’t be lonely anymore.
You won’t ever be in your kitchen, alone and miserable, saving the whole world, ever again. You will choose the best way, and you shall be free.
Check out the rest of our Women of the Gospels Series: