An Invitation to Choose the Better Thing

This morning I sat in my bed and listened to one of my favorite podcasts, . On the crazy mornings, the ones where I don’t wake up early enough (read: 5:45) to pray in the quiet and I feel the sting of leaving the house at 7:15 to get the kids to school (WHY? WHY DO WE LEAVE THE HOUSE AT 7:15???), the Pray As You Go podcast serves as my sometimes-undistracted ten minutes of prayer. A moment to breathe while I’m pouring cereal or drinking coffee or spraying loads of dry shampoo into my wild hair (because I didn’t make it into the shower…again).

Today I sat in my bed with a cup of coffee and listened to a reading of that well-known . How many church women’s events in the past twenty years have focused around the theme of Mary and Martha, the sisters who supposedly represent all women everywhere? Are you a Mary or a Martha? I’ve been asked with regularity.

I don’t think Mary and Martha are meant to define all women everywhere. In fact, men would do well to listen to Jesus’ gentle challenge to his friend Martha. And we’d all (men and women!) do well to recognize that we are neither “Marys” nor “Marthas.” Actually, we are humans living in the most demanding moment of time-stress in history.

I’m currently reading a fantastic research-driven book called . It’s a book that doesn’t just talk about the frantic state of our culture, but the factors that have brought us here. The author, Brigid Schulte, interviews time researchers and leisure researchers (yes, those things actually exist), and asks the questions we’re all asking: Where is the time? How are we supposed to get all this stuff done and be the people we want to be when there’s not enough time?

I’ve been asking myself that question for years, and longing to find the secret-sauce to a life of a gentle pace and healthy presence in my daily life. I’m not necessarily close to an answer.

But this morning as I listened to guide my prayer in response to the Mary and Martha story, I had the realization that we are not simply Mary people or Martha people. Those divisions are not so easily defined.

It’s not that some of us know how to sit and listen to the Lord and some of us only know how to frantically work. This is not about dispositions or good people versus distracted people.

Really, my disposition is much closer to Mary’s. I’d rather sit and learn. But the reality of my life is that of Martha’s. There’s work to do and I have to do it. If I don’t fulfill my daily obligations my world and the people who depend on me will suffer. I have to pick my kid up from school. I have to help with homework. I have to make dinners. I have commitments at church and commitments in my work. I need to pay the bills on time and get the groceries and call the doctor and take care of my friends. Does that make me a Martha?

This is what I heard resonating deeply in me as I contemplated that small story in the book of Luke: It’s not about whether I’m a Mary or a Martha already.

This is not a story about what we already are. It’s a story of what we’re invited to be, moment by moment, today.

When Martha pulls Jesus aside to beg him for a little help, she’s drowning under her obligations and her longing to make Jesus’ visit to her home comfortable and welcoming for him and his followers.

And Jesus’ response is this, “Martha…you are worried and upset about many things.” (Something Jesus could say to me at any moment in my day, I’m afraid.) “Mary has chosen what is better.”

What is the better thing for us—right now—in this moment? I may never make it through my to-do list, I may never get the thank you notes written that I mean to write. (And believe me, guilt floods my chest when I think about what I’m leaving undone.)

But here it is: Jesus is offering Martha (and me, and you) an invitation to choose, in this moment, the better thing.

An invitation to stop in the midst of our daily, harried pace and redirect our hearts.

An invitation to choose peace over frantic self-consumption. An invitation to slow down our minds and hearts, even in the midst of running late to work or battling the to-do list. An invitation to breathe even when the email inbox threatens to explode our brains.

What is the better thing in this moment? That’s the question. Not whether you’re a Mary or a Martha. But whether you’re wise enough to discern the opportunity for peace and joy that is being offered to you—now, right here—in the presence of Jesus.

  • I so appreciate this–and I too enjoy Pray-As-You-Go

    Thanks for this.

  • Jen

    Thank you Micha. I needed that.

  • Micha, that is the Catch 22 I have been living. I’m a Mary caught in a Martha world. It’s a daily balance-beam.walk. So, it isn’t what our body is doing so much as where are heart is yearning?

  • “What is the better thing in this moment?” Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. I’ve read that passage many times and have always missed the deeper question. (Probably because I’ve always felt the world wants me to miss it—to instead align myself with one or the other—and that never felt quite right.) I have a feeling I’ll be returning to this question as a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment spiritual practice.

  • Victoria

    Micha, this is a very touching and profound message. You have so clearly articulated the tension of the world we live in versus our heart desire. I was struck recently by how it was Martha who expressed faith later that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. It’s not that her and Mary had now swapped places or roles, but it does show a different side of Martha I think.

  • pastordt

    Beautifully said, Micha. We are always and ever BOTH Mary and Martha. And the hard part is choosing when to let which part shine. We don’t do it perfectly – we never will. But if we can have enough grace to allow space for them both, we’re halfway there. Thanks for taking us to that point.

  • Sarah Kerner

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting that link to the Pray As You Go podcast! We just moved for my husband’s job and now I’m commuting an hour each way. I’ve been wanting to do some meditative reading each morning but I can’t get up any earlier than I already am (5:30) and be a functional human being. But I’ve got plenty of time to listen to podcasts.

  • “What is the better thing for us—right now—in this moment?” I appreciate this line. I’ve always resonated with Mary more in this Bible story. I am wired to relate better to time in God’s Word than I am with God’s people sometimes! The Holy Spirit often reminds me that I need to pour myself out but also keep myself filled up. A good post! Thanks.

  • I’m late to this party, lovely, but I just have to say how much I appreciate your treatment of Martha here. She is someone who continues to inspire me, and Jesus’ love for her continues to fill me with joy and delight, because I so often resonate with her.
    It’s so true though, and I’ve often thought: Mary and Martha probably weren’t “Marys” or “Marthas” all the time.
    So good to remember that we are all invited to the best part (including Martha).

  • A fresh perspective on a well-known scripture passage! We may know what the better thing is for us right now, but are we brave enough to choose it?