Ahhh, the Biblical story of Mary and Martha. It is a story many of us are familiar with, one which oftentimes tends to spark feelings of frustration and cause shouts of “That’s not fair!” to rise from the hearts of tired, overworked, weary wives and mamas. I believe we do ourselves a great disservice, however, when we stop there, lick our proverbial wounds, and do not take the time to stop and ponder what the Lord could be trying to teach us through this narrative. I believe this is a very applicable, relevant story from which we women can actually glean some much-needed wisdom, insight, relief, and encouragement that will serve to bolster us in our very walks as wives and moms.
The story is a short, though profoundly life-changing one found in the Gospel of Luke:
“38 Now it happened as they [the disciples and Jesus] went that He [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 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.”
41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Okay, okay, ladies, I know what you are likely thinking right now! “Only one thing is needed?? Mary chose the good part? Are you sure, Lord? I thought we were supposed to serve others! I thought we were supposed to take care of our homes, practice hospitality, and care for our families? What about that? What about my lengthy to-do list??” I hear ya, friend! I understand what it is to feel overwhelmed, for it to seem like you have a million and one important tasks weighing on you, and it is all you can do to just get through the day. But, may I share a little something with you, dear reader? I believe it is precisely because the Lord knows the feelings that rage in the hearts of us women and the struggles we go through and the expectations we heap upon ourselves, that He chose to include such an admonition as this in His Word in the first place. The Lord knows we as women are “worried and troubled about many things”. He was the One who fashioned and designed us, making us to be the caregivers, helpers, and nurturers in this life. He knows well all that goes along with that-the encouraging and helping of the husbands, the discipling and training of the children day in and day out, the running of the home, and the list goes on. Our God is a loving, compassionate, merciful, tender Father who delights in strengthening, helping, bolstering, encouraging, and serving us, His precious daughters. The key is this: He understands better than anyone that true rest and refreshment for the race set before us comes not in the marking off of tasks on the to-do list (though we do find enjoyment in that sometimes!), but in the moments spent with our Lord, learning from Him, reading His Word, and communing with Him in prayer. Now, before the exhausted mama of littles gets all up in arms at what I am saying, let me set your heart at ease, Mama-this is not about Pharisaical legalism, a list of rules, an expectation that you should get up at 4am every morning, spend an hour in Bible study, then an hour in prayer, and, finally, an hour in Scripture memorization, all before those kiddos of yours get up. Nor am I advocating the practice of allowing your little ones to veg out in front of the tv so that you can have four hours of inductive Bible study on a regular basis. No, no, no! Not at all. But it is about realizing that we do tend to make time for what is truly important to us, that whether or not we are in the Word has a far greater impact on how the rest of our day goes than we oftentimes realize, and that if we want to do this whole Christian woman, wife, and mama thing well, we are going to have to tap into the strength and inspiration of God-it is the only way! So, what can today’s Christian woman learn from the Biblical narrative of Mary and Martha? Well, let’s dive right in and see!
What About Proverbs 31 and Titus 2??
At first glance, it would seem, perhaps, that Jesus is overly exaggerating or even a little wrong when He says to Martha that only one thing is needed and that Mary has chosen that better part. After all, does not Proverbs 31:10-31 go on and on about all that the godly wife and mother was doing in and around her home? Doesn’t it speak of her spinning thread, making clothing, looking well to the ways of her household, conducting business, traveling far and wide to gather the best food possible for her family, serving the poor and needy, and making meals? Judging from the tasks alone, that sounds a lot like Martha.
Furthermore, we might be wondering-what about Titus 2? Does it not say that we, as women, are to be busy at home, that the Word of God be not blasphemed? Sounds pretty crucial to me! Or Proverbs 14:1-we as women are to be wise and build our homes rather than foolishly tear them down with our own hands. But consider with me for a moment: We cannot conduct the roles of wife, mother, and homemaker well, apart from regularly tapping into the Lord, His truth, and His strength. We cannot conduct our other roles as women well if we do not first begin at the beginning and build a firm foundation.
For example, not only did the Proverbs 31 woman fill her time with meal-making, tapestry-sewing, and the like, we also see that she feared God (vs. 30) and opened her mouth with wisdom (vs.26)-feats which would have been impossible had she not first been a student of the Word, seeking after and acquiring the wisdom of God, for true wisdom comes only from the Lord (Prov. 1:7; 2:6; 15:33). Likewise, reading further in Titus 2:4-5, we see that women are not merely to be homemakers, but also loving, good, chaste, and discreet-characteristics which mirror the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and are only cultivated through the work of God in our hearts and lives and through our daily pursuit of Him. Home indeed is to be our primary domain as women and the nurture and care of our families are some of our most important roles. But God is to be of first priority in our lives and it is only by learning from and about Him that we are equipped for the important daily tasks set before us.
Why One Thing?
So, why does Jesus say but one thing is needed? Because, as we saw above, that one thing-being at the feet of Jesus to listen to and learn from Him-carries out into all the other things of life, touching and affecting each one. As my dear friend, Ann, made the point recently, “Perhaps Martha would have had the strength, grace, and servant’s heart required for her tasks if she had first met with Jesus and spent time at His feet.” Oftentimes we busy wives, mamas, and homemakers let our daily quiet times be the first thing to go when life speeds up and we begin to feel weighed down by it all. But that is the biggest mistake we can make in those moments. It is like cutting ourselves off from an IV that is infusing life-giving medicine into our bodies. It zaps us of the strength, vision, endurance, love, purpose, joy, stamina, and grace required for this marathon called life. We need that time in the Word! Sadly, those moments with the Lord are the first and easiest to see go because, after all, no one will notice the difference, right? My family will definitely notice if there is no food on the table or if the laundry remains piled on the floor or if they step foot in that bath tub that hasn’t seen a good cleaning in far too long, but if I don’t read my Bible today or even this week? How would they even know? Trust me, they will feel the difference. The atmosphere of our homes-which we women are responsible for cultivating-will undoubtedly feel different. They will notice that we are more stressed, more cranky and irritable, and more likely to grow frustrated, exhausted, or discouraged. I know I, for one, notice a big difference on my entire outlook on the rest of my day if I do not have my daily quiet time first thing in the morning after my husband leaves for work and before Anna gets up. I am more easily made irritable or frustrated and even my energy and exuberance for the day’s tasks can wane. When I happen to start my day in God’s Word, however, I am uplifted and better equipped and prepared for whatever lies ahead in my day.
Furthermore, this issue of us busy women intentionally being in the Word as regularly as we can not only sustains us with grace, hope, and encouragement, and, as we have seen, carries over into impacting our children through the kind of atmosphere this practice tends to produce, but it is also the only method we have of adequately equipping ourselves for the spiritual training and discipleship of our children. Just as a breastfeeding mama must eat well and increase her caloric intake in order to feed her baby well, so, too, must we mamas feed ourselves well spiritually on a regular basis if we hope to be feeding our children spiritually. Consider with me the following passages:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:16-17
“[Jesus said,] ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.'” ~John 15:5
“5Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” ~2 Corinthians 3:5-6
“9And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9-10
You see, friend, it is only through pursuing the Lord, resting in His strength, and reading and studying His Word that we will have what it takes to raise our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1) and train them up in the way that they should go (Prov. 22:6). Time in the Word is not something to take off the to-do list when the days get hurried and harried. Focusing on our to-do lists and having it be our mission to daily complete as many of the tasks thereon as possible is not what will lead to our children knowing doctrine, their hearts being reached and transformed by truth, and us proving faithful to our calling of raising them up well. [clickToTweet tweet=”Yes, homemaking tasks are important, but I believe we would all agree that the souls of our children are more so. ” quote=”Yes, homemaking tasks are important, but I believe we would all agree that the souls of our children are more so. “] [clickToTweet tweet=”Regular time in the Word is crucial, for we cannot pass on what we do not have. ” quote=”Regular time in the Word is crucial, for we cannot pass on what we do not have. “] If we want to be able to live out the concept of teaching God’s Word diligently to our children, as we sit in our houses, as we walk by the way, as we lie down, and as we rise up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)-in other words, showing them how God’s Word relates to each situation we may find ourselves in through life-then we must know the Word and be in the Word ourselves. We see this concept also in The Parable of the Sower as found in Matthew 13 and Mark 4-in these stories, a man had a seed bag full of seeds that he dispersed here, there, and everywhere. In this analogy, the seed is truth from God’s Word and he is throwing it out to all who will listen. Now, if the man did not have seed in his seed bag and his bag were instead empty due to insufficient knowledge of the Word, he would have had nothing to throw and no one would have been reached with the truth. So it is with us mamas and our little ones-the primary ones first and foremost to whom we are to dispense the truths of God.
Finally, but one thing is important-that being sitting at the feet of Jesus-because it reminds us daily of who we are in Christ and it a wonderful antidote against striving to prove ourselves, impress the Lord or others, or work ourselves to the bone, as Martha did, because we think we have to or that God would love us more if we did. [clickToTweet tweet=”The Lord does not need our work, our striving, and our to-do lists. He wants our hearts.” quote=”The Lord does not need our work, our striving, and our to-do lists. He wants our hearts.“] My dear friend, Ann (yes, the same one mentioned above! 🙂 She’s a gem!), recently shared with me this fantastic, thought-provoking quote from the book Replenish by Lance Witt:
“We are often eager to listen to the voices that say, ‘Prove yourself, do something important, succeed, achieve!’ rather than God’s voice, which whispers, ‘Rest in Me; I am your Shepherd. You don’t have to prove anything. You are not an employee. You are My child.‘ …. Our activity is not synonymous with our identity.”
You are not God’s employee, dear Mama! You are His precious, beloved, bought-with-a-price child. His creation, His daughter, one who has the imputed righteousness of Christ fully clothing you every moment of every day! Do not strive after endless to-do lists (for, they really are endless-there is always something we women feel like needs done and we have to be the ones to do it). Do not worry and fret that you are not doing enough. Do not flit around like our Martha, trying to make everything in life just perfect for your family, friends, guests, and others, and in so doing stress yourself out, loose sight of the whole purpose behind what you are doing, and come to disdain it and allow a root of bitterness to grow in your heart. Do not burn out in your life’s work because you have been so focused on being God’s employee that you forget that “It is finished.” That Christ performed everything necessary through both His perfect life and His death on the cross to redeem you, justify you, sanctify you, and one day glorify you (Romans 8:29-30). Everything has been done and if you have trusted fully in Christ’s work on your behalf, He sees you as being perfect. Nothing you can do will ever make Him love you more or less or cause Him to be more impressed with you or less impressed with you. So, stop striving, dear Mama. That isn’t to say that you throw off doing any housework and become a lazy bum-we do need to remember all aspects of Titus 2 and Proverbs 31. 😉 However, being a Martha and serving begrudgingly does no one any good. Constantly trying to cross things off our to-do list to the detriment of spending time with our families is not a right ordering of priorities. The only way to combat these issues is by being more like Mary-placing high priority on just sitting at Jesus’ feet and realizing that, though Mamas may sometimes feel guilty taking the time to do so and feel as if there are other pressing things to do instead, this practice of spending time with Jesus, sharing our hearts with Him as with a dear friend, and learning from Him, is the only way to arm ourselves for the battles ahead. It is important, Mama! It is not something to take or leave, to do when we feel like it, etc. Jesus likens God’s Word to daily nourishment, which goes back to the analogy above of the breastfeeding mama. We would not just eat physical food here or there until we discover we are suddenly starving and close to death. No, we eat every day to fuel our bodies. So, too, must we be at the feet of Jesus and in His Word on a regular basis in order to fuel our souls and spirits.
Making it Practical
Now, dear ones, this article is not at all about heaping more to-dos upon you and burdening you with lofty goals or expectations of three hours of Bible study a day (if it were, we would just be guilty of being reverse Marthas, as it were-striving, striving, striving, only this time after spiritual disciplines!). [clickToTweet tweet=”It is not about being pharisaical. It is about resting.” quote=”It is not about being pharisaical. It is about resting.”] Jesus says to us in Matthew 11:28-30 that He desires for us to “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [clickToTweet tweet=”Our Lord is in the glorious business of lightening our loads, not adding to them!” quote=”Our Lord is in the glorious business of lightening our loads, not adding to them!”] He yearns to help us (which is why the Holy Spirit was sent for us-John 14:26), encourage us, and strengthen us. Therefore, it is not about heaping man-made laws upon you and forcing you to follow a specific quiet time method or formula or telling you you have to conduct your quiet times at a specific time of day. The precise look of quiet times will vary from woman to woman, depending on the specific season of life she is in, whether or not she has children and if so, what their ages are, etc. But it does mean making Bible reading and prayer a priority and the foundation of your life where you are right now, in this season, at this moment.
So, how do we go about that? How do we begin to incorporate a regular quiet time into the busyness of our lives? One thing I would like to point out on the outset before I get into some specific, practical ideas, is something that my hero, Sally Clarkson, talks regularly about. She not only speaks to the importance of us women being in the Word, but also of having our children actually see us in the Word. Sometimes we get all caught up in frustration over how difficult it may be for us, in this season of our lives, to have true “quiet” times where it is just us and God. I do understand that and have been there myself-this selfish Mama has been known to get quite upset when her precious daughter decides to wake up in the morning before Mama is done with her Bible time! However, if we want our dear ones to not only know, but to believe for themselves, that Bible study is important, then they need to see us living that out by example-they need to see us going to the Word for answers, pursuing the wisdom of God, and putting Bible study in a place of importance in our day. Bible study won’t happen everyday for us. Life will happen. Our schedules will get derailed. Some days, our bodies will legitimately need more rest and sleep than other days. The Lord knows that-He gives His beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2). We are giving our children a wonderful gift, however, when they know that no matter what may be going on all around us, we do at least purpose to be in the Word every chance we get. Now for some quick practical tips for how to incorporate a regular quiet time into the craziness of your daily life as mom (or woman in general!).
- Do you have the opportunity to get up a little earlier than your kiddos do in order to spend time with the Lord? If so, take advantage of that as much as you can! It takes discipline and dedication, for sure, but it is so worth it! For me, anyway, having that time first thing in the morning makes a big difference for the rest of my day.
- Are you a nursing mama? Having to sit down and nurse is the perfect pause button in your day for you to get in some Bible or prayer time!
- Download a Bible app onto your phone! This way, you will literally be taking God’s Word with you wherever you go! Read it while in a waiting room, turn on the audio option and be read to while you are driving or even when you are taking a shower or cooking dinner or folding laundry. The possibilities here are endless!
- Have your quiet time while your little ones are down for their naps.
- Keep your Bible in the bathroom! I know it sounds crazy, but if you intentionally squeeze a little reading into every opportunity you get, you’ll get a lot more reading in than you think! For example, read a passage while brushing your teeth! I, for one, am a big fan of reading while brushing my teeth-it is a regular part of my daily life. 😉
There are literally countless creative ways we can go about adding time in the Word and in prayer to our daily lives. Even if it is only for 5 minutes or a verse a day! Every little bit helps us in our walks, and it all adds up to big impacts and lasting fruit. The Lord can use and work through anything-you do not have to sit at His feet for two hours a day. He simply desires for you to sit at His feet in the first place and to have a heart that hungers for Him. He is so honored in that, and He does not care if you cannot spend hours on end with Him due to the season of life in which He Himself has placed you. He simply loves you so much and honors a heart for Him. So, be blessed and encouraged, sweet sisters, as you purpose to pursue the spiritual nourishment you so desperately need in the midst of your busy daily life! The Lord will work through that in mighty ways for you, your family, and others who come into your life.
I want to leave you today with two excellent articles that have encouraged and inspired me in this area, and which I hope will serve you in the same way. I’ll provide you with the links along with a little snippet of each one. Enjoy! 🙂
“For many of us moms, the mere thought of studying theology seems way beyond what our daily life can handle. We might think, At this stage in my life, I can’t learn theology. My life is consumed and overwhelmed with the daily duties of motherhood. Perhaps we think that our time might be better spent reading up on ways to help our child sleep, or on the best nutritional choices for our growing child, or how to keep our preschooler from throwing a tantrum in the middle of the checkout lane.
But the truth is we desperately need theology for all our daily duties of motherhood. We need theology for bedtime battles, feeding worries, the grocery store, and everything else in between.”
“I no longer eat lunch alone, or have endless hours of quiet and solitude.”
From the minute my feet hit the floor to the minute I pull the chain on my bedside lamp to drift off to sleep at night, I have endless interruptions, or as I’m learning to call them – divine appointments.
While chatting with a mom of a newborn and toddler, she expressed her discouragement in the lack of quiet for “quiet times.” She wanted to be in the Word, but just couldn’t get five minutes to shower, let alone open the Word of God in peace.
Can you relate?
Throughout this season of motherhood, I’ve learned my quiet times are as unique as each new baby giggle and as inconsistent as a toddler’s nap schedule. And you know what? That’s okay!
Just because it isn’t quiet, doesn’t mean you can’t meet with God.
Just because you can’t get a minute alone, doesn’t mean you can’t pour your heart out in prayer.
Just because you can’t spend hours like you used to, doesn’t mean you can’t take five minutes.
Fellow mamas, can we ban mommy guilt and our idealized versions of what our quiet times should look like and instead bask in mommy grace?
So many moms give up quiet times altogether because they can’t do them in the morning, or they can’t do them for at least 30 minutes, or they never have a moment alone. I don’t believe it’s God’s heart for us to turn our backs on His word, and tell Him we will get back with him later once we’ve raised our children. We need Jesus to help us raise our children, mama! Now more than EVER we need to be saturated in the Word of God.”
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