Martha: The Ditch of Doing


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Today, Bob Evans spoke about the dynamic between Mary, Martha, and Jesus in Luke 10:38-42.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus [1] entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. [2] Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.


Marthas serve and work; they are efficient, pragmatic, and active.  We are active and functioning, but in the midst of that we become critical of others who don’t serve and we forget why we started serving in the first place.  Bitterness takes root and our tone becomes more and more critical, insensitive, and rash.

In my work and in my holidays, I embody the Martha spirit.  I think that “If I’m not busy, I’m not worth anything.”  It’s a lie of the Devil I have succumbed to many times.  It is the temptation of the women in my family to find their identity by what they do rather than who they are in Christ.  I’ve always been active in the church, since I was a young girl.  I’ve worked in churches since I was 15.  I’ve always been so busy working that the idea of sitting, reading, listening, contemplating seemed like a waste of time.  In fact, one of my greatest struggles in ministry – particularly at Wildwood Church – has been a critical spirit.  I’ll plan projects, performances, and study groups and in reaction to what I perceive as low attendance, I begin to mentally or verbally criticize those who aren’t in attendance.  I rely totally on my intellect and skills and rarely ever pray.  As a result, I am left with a lonely existence.  Instead of loving and encouraging others, I criticize and withhold love and affirmation because – of course – they didn’t support me in my event with their attendance, they didn’t agree with my point of view, they didn’t help me clean up the dishes after the meal I had dutifully prepared for days.  As Bob Evans said in his sermon this morning, “If you serve and get bitter, your motives for serving are self-centered.”

My Life and Work

This morning, I posted an entry for the Night of Anticipation blog.

This evening I find myself exhausted, my body overwhelmed by the events of the week and my mind slowly shutting down into sleep mode.  Tomorrow morning I have to get up early, play and sing with a smile, and dress presentably.  Duty and desire will continue conflict as I struggle to make decisions, consciously or automatically to smile, sit, stand, walk, sing, and play.  I’ve been a leader in worship services, be it singing or playing the piano, for about nine years.  My Sundays have never been my own but for a short sabbatical I took at the beginning of college when I was church-hopping.  I suppose that it’s for this reason that the prayer this morning hits me so deeply in the pit of my stomach – I am weary.  I am tired.  My life is full of drama and busyness, and there are always projects coming up.

My prayer for this morning was this:

Abba, I am exhausted, broken-hearted, and weary.  Please come into my mess, renew my mind so that I can lead others in worship of you tomorrow morning.

May I remember these words today: “when my world is shaking, Heaven stands; when my heart is breaking, I never leave Your hands.”

As I listened to the sermon today and spoke with friends at lunch about my evident feelings concerning what I do and how I felt about leading worship this morning, many more things came to light concerning my Martha-complex.

There are a million projects going on at the church.  I feel pressured to get things done and to prove my worth so I will be respected by the men I work with. I feel that they respect products more than processes. I push myself to do a good job so that I will feel respected, and I feel that I lose respect when I perform at less than my maximum level of output. The Martha in me is so concerned with accomplishing these tasks and earning respect that I do not make time to sit and be with Jesus.  To sit “and do nothing” feels like a complete waste of time.  I figure – God gave us hands, and brains, so why can I not use them?

Working in Ministry (Following conversations at Sunday lunch in the mall with friends)

My conversation at lunch made me realize that my desire to serve in music ministry was rooted in a deep lack of satisfaction with myself. I started playing piano because I felt that my looks were not enough to get me by in life. I needed some sort of skill or talent to give me worth. Because that attitude was my first introduction to musical arts, I have ever since been trying to work my way into satisfaction with my life and acceptance from others. That desire to develop a marketable skill drove my ambition to be the best at everything musical in middle school and high school. In my family, I squashed any idea that my little brother could be a musician because I didn’t want him to rain on my parade. At school I wanted to be the best all the time. I hated the thought of competition, of someone coming in who was better than me.

My first paid job in church music

In ninth grade I got a phone call to audition as a church pianist. They said that they wanted me to play and asked if I could do it for community service hours. As my private piano instructor had told me to do, I said no, I want to get paid. The church accepted. Ever since then, I have been paid for my services at church. By the time I got to college I began to feel like a mercenary.

When I got to college, I was tired of playing and I took a sabbatical from playing in church. But after about six months, I began seeking out another church gig. As I look back on that experience, I realize that I started searching for church jobs because I missed the accolades. I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to feel like I was good at something. I found my value in playing piano: the encouragement I received when I played countered the deeply-rooted low self esteem I had about my perception of my own personal worth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Broken World

My greatest struggle at Wildwood has been that while I know people appreciate the musical skills I have to offer, inside I feel like I’m doing it more for myself rather than for God and for the congregation.

I feel that while my motivations are not the same as they were in high school, they are not where they ought to be. I’m caught between trying to figure out whether my feelings and attitudes at this point. I struggle to know if I’m being selfish or not. Am I withholding my musical gifts and talents from the congregation, as I criticize others for doing? I feel like I’m in a period of transition. I also feel like for the first time in my life I’m coming to a point where I could actually choose what I want to do. I feel like I should spend more time writing, composing, reaching out to people. I feel that I can’t do all that if I’m spending 20 hours a week frantically laying down track in front of the HereComesSundayHereComesSunday locomotive. I feel like I have the whole world on my shoulders.

I found this clip from one of Mark Driscoll’s sermons to hit a sweet spot with me on this issue of “Martha-ness.”

Just in the first 30 seconds, I find myself being one of the Americans Driscoll is talking about.  I have a lot of stress, which affects all of kinds of health issues (affecting my back, my digestive system, my headaches, etc.). The working person he’s talking about was me all through college.  And it’s affecting me even now, because I haven’t learned to relax and spend time with God on a regular basis.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bringing Balance to the Martha Complex

A recipe for healing…some thoughts for change:

When I go home at night and spend time with Henry, I will spend time with Henry.  We can make lists and make goals, but I will: Spend time reflecting at night with Henry.

Organize our nights – spend time reading, writing, relaxing, cooking, eating, spending time with friends & family. 

Henry and I used to play and sing together more often than we do now.  We love to make music together!  And yet…I’ve struggled with the desire to do so because I’ve been under so much perceived pressure to make life work and keep the plates spinning.

Pray – Start, little by little to pray at the beginning and end of my day, alone or with Henry, even if it’s just a silent 60 seconds with my eyes closed.


Photography by Megan Barton, "Breathe"


One response »

  1. Profound wisdom from Driscoll, “if Jesus is last, I will never get to Him”…You are wise Cat to discover this truth now while you are 20ish. You will be more like Him as a result when you are 50ish. “cease striving and know I am God”…
    Thanks for sharing! Sally

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