Martha’s House, Mary’s Village


My dear friend Bruce sent me this story in response to my post Helga the Cleaning Nazi.  It was a great reminder to keep the main thing the main thing-namely the love of Christ working through me- and to let go of the little crap that get me all riled up and cranky.

Bruce Carl Aronson is a true spiritual guide to many at Mariners Mission Viejo Church and his wisdom and heart are off the charts!  I am honored to share his story on a woman who I resemble all too often  I really want to be like Mary, but my inner Martha keeps nipping at my heels.

I hope you enjoy this as much as  did…


Martha’s House, Mary’s Village by Bruce Carl Aronson


Martha was pissed.

She had to watch over her two hair-brained siblings ever since her mom, Enchania, and her dad, Syro, died.  That blighted tower that fell down in the earthquake, crushing both of the parents, and sixteen others, was the beginning of Martha’s great aloneness.  Her exacting soul found great comfort in clinging to the idea that the disaster was not the punishment of God.  Martha’s father had expected much of his first-born daughter.  At least, if I had been born a son, she thought to herself, I could enjoy that, but now it’s just a talent (for Martha a talent was not a skill or ability but a load weighing 94 pounds, in her day)Martha saw her brother and sister as hopelessly scattered, and surely without Martha they would be both homeless and starve.

She worked hard to keep a proper Jewish Home: ordered, clean, and run with a kind of autocratic authority that her sister and brother found withering. 

Now it was even worse, the Rabbi had showed up and nothing was ready.  It was okay for the men to sit around and gab, but a worthy woman washed the feet of each guest, made sure there was plenty of food and drink, and that her guests lacked for nothing.  So that is what Martha did.  It was getting hot outside as the sun was now directly overhead.  Even the cool, dark of her home was permitting some of that heat to enter.  She needed to prepare the biggest meal of the day, after which, everyone but her would take a nap.  She glanced around her home: it did please her enormously!  The family business had prospered, blessed be, permitting them, not the tiny little four room affair that most families squeezed into, but a lavish two-story (with an open third story) wrapped around a small courtyard.  Martha was in the kitchen, which opened on to the first floor looking out on the courtyard, but she could hear the laughing going on upstairs, in the dining room. 

Her hands worked steadily as she plied the pita dough squeezing it, balling it up, and smashing each ball onto the heated brazier above her kitchen fire.  She was squeezing the dough as if to strangle it and when she balled it, she smashed it on the hot metal she was using with rather more effort than the dough needed.  She had just come down from dropping off the last pita’s, butter, and wine.  The previous upstairs deliveries included olives, dates, and apples.  She was tired from carrying all that food up and down the narrow stairs that led to her dining room above.  There the Master was upstairs, on the floor in the center of the woven matt, with everyone hanging on his every word.  He was saying something profound, he always was, but the person who sat directly in front of him now really annoyed Martha.

Mary was not at all disciplined.  Martha wondered, Who would want to marry a girl who did not know her place?  Martha certainly knew her place, but it had done no good: she was now the village spinster at 18.  She had sent Mary up there to fill the water vat, knowing full well it would be a while before she ever came back.  Well, it had been more than a while.  Martha did appreciate Mary’s thirst for learning.  Like Martha, she knew how to stand behind a curtained door or half way up the stairway so as not to interfere with the men’s learning and still partake of it.  Much of Martha’s education had come from deliberately overhearing her father teach.  Now the Master was upstairs with his emissaries, and a few others.  Who was in the middle of all the men?  Mary, of course!

The fourteen year old sibling just did not get that she was not a man and should never sit with them while instruction was going on.  It wasn’t decent.  It wasn’t seemly.  And, no one was asking for her hand, in marriage either.  It was getting late for Mary too.  But, Mary was the pretty one.  Men liked her.  She got a lot of slack because she was gregarious, charming, and had a figure that could not be obscured by the robes she wore.

A cry of anguish slipped from Martha’s lips.  She had not kept her mind on her work and the side of her hand had brushed the hot metal.  She hoped that they had not heard that cry up above!  What would you say about a homemaker who did not even know how to keep herself from being burned as she cooked?  The skin was red all along the fleshy part of her hand.  This was going to hurt.  She was about to plunge her hand in the basin of water that was kept at the ready for such emergencies, when her nose reminded her that something was burning.  It was the pita on the brazier!  While she had been staring at her hand, the pita had blackened.  Now, they were smoking.  Could they smell that upstairs?  She could already hear the gossip at dawn, the next day, at the village well.  “Pitas get away from you, dearie?”  “So much food you can burn it up?  Warming the house with dough these days?”  How they loved to laugh at her!  (Of course, they were all jealous.  That’s all.)

Tears leaked down her cheeks.  Sure her hand hurt, but the shame of everyone thinking you are very competent and then you go and pull a small-minded stunt like this?  Pull it together, girl!  She swept the burned pita down off the brazier and into the fire below hoping that no one was the wiser.  Then, she looked at her hand again.  She thought, what to do?

Catching her completely by surprise, there was the Master scooping up her small hand in his great big ones! 

“Martha,” his majestic, deep voice intoned, “you are working too hard.  Come upstairs and sit with us.”

“Rabbi,” she stared up through her tears, “there is so much to do!”  She knew it was unworthy to complain, but it slipped out, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself?  Tell her to get back down here and help me out!”

He reached to her other hand and pulled her up to him, but merely said, “Martha,” as he held both hands.  Somehow his hand was cooling against her burned hand.  The pain seemed to be ebbing away…slowly. 

Martha looked down.  He did have beautiful, massive, well muscled hands.  He lightly turned her hand side up and poured a little olive oil on the burned part.  He worked it in tenderly with a gentle massaging motion.  She still fretted in her heart that he would find her unworthy and stop staying at their home when he passed through Bethany or Jerusalem.

“Martha,” he said again, with such tenderness it made her heart ache with joy.  He fixed his eyes to look squarely into hers.  “You are worried and upset about many things.”

Martha nodded, of course that was true.  She nodded fitfully that she understood.

He continued, “…but, few things are needed…”

She nodded again, transported by his gaze.  Generally, she could not say that he was a handsome man.  Yet, holding her wounded hand like this, he just seemed so beautiful.  Would a man like him ever consider…?

He smiled as if he knew her thoughts, “or indeed, only…one…”

All the cares she carried seemed to leave like smoke in a wind.  He was such a beautiful man!

He smiled again.  “Mary has chosen what is better.”

Mary, she thought, why is it always ‘Mary this’ and ‘Mary that?’  Then, Martha’s mind became clear. Mary was so deliberate about knowing the Rabbi well.  Carefully, she gleaned all that he shared.  She went out of her way to really understand everything he mentioned –even the obscure stuff.  Martha suddenly saw with clarity that it was not that Mary was younger or prettier (or luckier), it was just that she cared about relationships.  Mary was all about relationships.  Martha, realized (and it stung her) that she all about responsibilities.  Mary and Martha.  Relationships and responsibilities.

Martha lowered her head against the Rabbi’s broad chest.  He whispered in her ear, “It will not be taken away from her.”  But, she knew what it meant.  You do everything so carefully, thoroughly, and well, Martha.  Now, try Mary’s approach.  She nodded to him as if he could hear her thoughts. 

She looked down at her own hand.  The redness was gone.  The pain was gone.  And he was sliding his arm around her back and gently leading her to the narrow stairs.  Up they went.  When they reached the dining room all the men were silent and noticing how the Rabbi was walking with her as if she were an adored daughter.  People moved to get out of their way.  Mary stood and vacated her place on the mat.  Jesus pointed to that open place and indicated it was now Martha’s place.  She realized that while Mary had taken this place, the Rabbi was giving it to her.

And Mary took a tray of empty dishes downstairs.

Martha on the Hampster Wheel

Crying emoticon

Image via Wikipedia

It seems like it always happens this time of year, fall burn-out sets in.  Not just general weariness, but pure debilitating fatigue that has tenuous layers of emotional, spiritual and physical exhaustion.  If you scratch the surface, of a parent or child in this state, you just might get more than you bargained for.  Raw emotions lurk underneath the realm of the over achievers façade. 

It finally dawned on me last week at the mall just how spent I was.  The sky was dumping rain and my family was ecstatic.  Wet fields meant a reprieve from the kids’ grueling sports schedule.  So after almost five hours at church, we headed off for some much-needed sustenance and a little retail therapy…my older daughter’s love language. After pigging out at Ruby’s, my daughter begged to go to Justice for girls, a shop geared for hip tweens and enabling mothers. 

So in we trooped to Justice; the baby sleeping in her stroller, my daughter shrieking at the totally cute jeggings, my son running off to Tilly’s and my husband, well…I don’t actually remember where he went. And that’s when I saw it, a music video playing on one of the ten screens placed around the store appealing to the ADHD crowd featuring Taylor Swift.  I should have walked away, knowing how utterly prone I was to an emotional hijacking, but I fell for the romance and escape of it all. And so, in my highly fragile state, I was sucked in to Taylor’s compelling story-telling lyrics. 

Alas, it was a woeful tale of a child abandoned by her father, and than growing up scared that her own husband would repeat the abandonment of her youth.  So there I stood in Justice, a cacophony of mall buzz all around me, and I lost it.  Tears began to pour down my face, big gulpy sobs for poor little Taylor’s heart, and I felt a deep well of emotion erupt from my soul.  For a moment, the world stopped and I just reveled in the release.

This is what fall burn-out does.  It takes high functioning adults, exhausted from work, kids, and sport’s playoffs and on and on… and turns them to mush, in places like Justice, no less.  I realized this was a red-light symptom indicating that my cup might be overrunning with too many blessings and leading to detrimental burn-out, not just the tiredness that makes me long for summer and more languid days.  So, I added up all the things we are involved in right now as a family. Then I looked long and hard at the list and did a little reflecting.

Pastoral ministry, running a church, leading 2 Rooted groups, teaching 2 bible studies, a career in tech sales, freelance writing, 2 online magazines, 1 blog, 2 acting classes, fall baseball, cheerleading, Mini Pearls(kids cancer research), Jr. High youth group, commuting 2 hours a day, 3 kids(1 of them a teething baby), no sleep, attempted exercise, running a women’s ministry, school, homework, a football team heading for the West Coast Conference, fantasy football commissioner, and oh yes…another fantasy team, friends, kids friends, family obligations, cheer team mom, little scholar football rep, football chain volunteer, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and oh yeah…trying to remain spiritual, read the Bible, pray, and be blessed to be a blessing.

Just my schedule alone is something like 140 hours a week.  That leaves me with an average of about 4 hours of sleep a night. Quite frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t lost it at the Grocery Store or maybe even driven my car into the grocery store.

What the hell am I thinking?

The scary part is that I am pretty sure I am not alone in my race to accomplish, achieve, and appear busy.  All of my friends are overwhelmed too.  Sometimes I feel guilty for watching TV, annoyed at my husband when he takes time out to play, and frustrated that I don’t have more time to accomplish another 400 items.  Sounds a little more like Martha than Mary, and that makes me sad because I want to be more like Mary.  But, in all reality, we live in a Martha world and sitting on the floor like Mary at Jesus’ feet is counter-cultural.  It takes an inordinate effort to swim against the current of identity defined by productivity.

What is this psychotic expectation of achievement that we have all bought into?  I thought I could confidently say that I found my meaning and significance in Christ, but if I am honest, my agenda belies my statement of faith.  Rest doesn’t feel like rest anymore, it’s more a catatonic expression of paralysis. Too tired to move, too tired to talk, we zone out and veg. 

I think it’s time to stop the madness and climb off the hamster wheel.  The hard part is figuring out how not to get thrown off the wheel.  The world sucks you in and then spits you back out.  Oh, but my inner hamster both loves and hates the wheel.  While I want to jump off it’s also scary to think of not running so fast. 

 There’s an old saying that comes to mind…if the devil can’t make you sin, then he’ll make you busy.

So busy, that I imagine he has a field day with us when our defenses are down.

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