Saturday, July 20, 2013

Treating the Martha Syndrome

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 10:38-42

TO CHEW ON: "But Martha was distracted with much serving and she approached Him and said, 'Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.'" Luke 10:40

I have on my bookshelf a thoughtful book that makes me want to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. Embracing Your Second Calling by Dale Hanson Bourke helps women, specifically women in the second half of life, find direction and purpose for the rest of the journey. She makes a statement in a chapter on idols that I think is relevant to this little Mary-Martha vignette:

"I have come to believe that leaving false idols is at the heart of our ability to hear and obey our second callings" (p. 85).

Luke describes Martha as "distracted with much serving." But that is merely the outer symptom of obedience to a dictator in her heart which, I think, we could call an idol. Because there is nothing wrong with serving. But Martha's petulance at being left to do it alone shows that something besides serving is at stake here. There's an agenda (idol) that she's finding hard to satisfy.

Perhaps the motive for her dedicated service is to maintain her reputation as a good hostess and cook. On this of all days, she can't risk a shoddy or late meal. Or maybe she's fussing because this just isn't how you entertain guests—sit around listening to them while neglecting to do the usual. Tradition isn't being served. Or perhaps this is the Mary she's lived with all her life—the one who always slipped away from chores to do the interesting stuff. Today she's had enough. She is simply wanting Jesus, who would know what's fair if anyone would, to recognize and uphold her right to have help.

I've been all three of these Marthas. My sympathy is with her all the way. Mostly, I'd like to help her / myself get to the bottom of this and any dis-ease in my spirit that shows me some little demigod isn't happy. Sniffing out those idols is, I think, the key.

PRAYER: Dear God, You can have the full run of my heart today. Please help me identify and root out idols that keep me from hearing and following You. Amen.

MORE: Other thoughts on this passage

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World is a twelve week devotional by Joanna Weaver that delves into this little story in depth. Here is a reader's guide to the book (which gives a taste of what it's about).

Weaver has since come out with another book exploring the topic in even more depth. Janet Sketchley reviews Having a Mary Spirit (2006) on her blog here.

I've written about this Martha/Mary story previously before in a poem, which begins:

The Martha In Me

Too often Martha takes charge–
I schedule service with conditions,
workboots clomp on everything
threatening my control –
I curse the one who’s late,
ignore the longing in my daughter’s eyes to chat,
dismiss women with Watchtower at my door –
not aware I’ve stamped out
embers of His presence.

Read entire


  1. Thanks for the link, Violet! I found both of Joanna Weaver's books very helpful.

    This idol concept makes a lot of sense. Something to ponder....

  2. I've added the "Embracing Your Second Calling" book to my reading wish list.


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