The story of Mary and Martha gives us a fitting picture of giving and receiving hospitality.
You know the story. One sister bustles around the house doing all the things, her hands full, her mind distracted, while the other sits by Jesus and hangs on His every word.
As a woman and a mother, I am accustomed to the role of doer — the perpetual Martha, constantly at work with the cooking, cleaning, and serving. When my husband (and Jesus) urge me to rest, I retort that the work won’t get done unless I do it. Any attempt to be like Mary finds me frantic and jittery, counting minutes until I can get up and busy my hands once more.
A grace-filled change arrived recently in the form of a spontaneous trip to visit friends overseas. A nine-day trip, alone, chiefly occupying the role of visitor. To my friends, I was the one who paid for a plane ticket, who gave up my time to visit them, so I was lavishly spoiled as a guest.
But I found the change of position problematic.
During the trip I pondered the paradox of my life — that although Martha was busy and possibly overlooked what her Lord was up to, she got stuff done. Suddenly, on my trip, my hands were empty of tasks and requirements. Imagine how bare and useless I felt as I moved through people’s homes and sat around their tables with nothing to do.
As difficult as it was at times being Martha, being Mary was harder.
With every meal cooked for me, every museum ticket or dinner paid for, I kept a mental tally in my head of how much I owed my hosts — how they had sacrificed time and money for my visit, how they cooked and cleaned to show me a good time. Many times I had been on the giving end of this transaction, and it was by far the easier place to stand. By the end of the trip I was mentally scrambling to find a way to “pay back” the hospitality that was shown to me during my visit.
In my newfound role as Mary, I heard God’s whisper: Let it be.
Let my hosts sit on the giving end of the table.
Let them share. Let them sacrifice. Let them give freely because they appreciate me.
The parallels between my hosts and Jesus Himself were too pointed to ignore. If I was so terrible at receiving a few meals, some shared groceries, and a guest bed, how much less was I receiving God’s most precious gift? How much was I hustling for my own salvation?
My Martha-ness showed even more starkly. Martha wasn’t just worried about getting stuff done; she was trying to show Jesus how well she managed the situation, how much she cooked, cleaned, and served, how many things she accomplished by her own efforts.
He watched patiently and then urged her to choose the better thing: to sit and receive, to allow hosts to share their gifts, to swim in the ocean called grace and soak up generosity.
As we move through life together, we all take our turns at opposite ends of the table. Sometimes we are the ones cooking an extra meal or folding additional loads of laundry, driving out of our way to do a friend a favor, or committing countless, unseen acts of service. For most of us, this is the more comfortable thing to do.
Know that the tables will turn. You will need a friend to babysit, change your tire, or share their spare room for seemingly endless days. Your hands will be empty, and you will feel the weight of a debt.
Those are the moments to force ourselves to be Mary, to graciously say thank you, to know that we were lovingly served, to let it pour over us and simply receive, which, in a different and beautiful way, is also an act of service.Leave a Comment
Oh, how lovely this was. It can also be difficult to simply receive when you feel the weight of expectations from your husband or family to get things done. And also my own expectations to make him happy, because I know how much he appreciates acts of service and that is his main love language. It is so hard to simply receive sometimes. Thank you for a beautiful post!
Michele Morin says
I blew this lesson (big time) on a vacation last year with my family. I was so intent upon being “helpful” so that I could lessen the “burden” on our hostess that I guess I nearly drove her crazy popping up at the end of every meal and clearing the table. It turns out that she likes a more leisurely style of . . . everything, and I was setting an uncomfortable pace for her in my zeal to be the appreciative house guest.
I love knowing that you have struggled on the uncomfortable receiving end as well!
Mary Knecht O'Connor says
When we have guests, they make me so nervous if they can’t relax. Their best gift to me is just enjoying themselves.
Kathy W says
Am the “Martha” kind of person too. A wise woman, during challenging times said to me, “Do you like ministering and helping others?” Of course my answer was a resounding yes. The next statement was “then why are you keeping others from experiencing that joy by not allowing them to minister to you?” Point taken and often repeated in my head.
Tracy Harrell says
Wonderful reflection. And so true of us women. You’ve really defined this feeling if indebtedness and it’s interference with God’s blessings very well. Thank you.
Papa God has been leading me to be a grateful receiver at Jesus’ feet without any guilt. We are growing now by the Holy Spirit to be that way with other people. It is very difficult for me not to itemize a”tab” of what I “owe” to people for what they give and do for me. I am thankful to be able to day how much I appreciate them and what they do or give to me. Also I pray for God to Bless them a hundred fold. Our Creator Gives the most amazing gifts!
Kathy Cheek, Devotions from the Heart says
I think the most beautiful aspect of the Mary Martha story is Jesus is inviting all of us to take time from our busyness and to do lists to slow down and make time to sit as His feet. He knew Martha needed that as much as Mary did.
Pearl Allard says
Maggie, I exhaled deeply here: “If I was so terrible at receiving a few meals, some shared groceries, and a guest bed, how much less was I receiving God’s most precious gift? How much was I hustling for my own salvation?” Thank you so much for reminding me to swim in the ocean of God’s grace — not just nervously tiptoe around it.
Dena Courtney says
I can identify with this because I am the one who is always busy! Busyness is my middle name and I seem to always have balls in the air! working to not let any of them fall… I am not very good at receiving and much better at the giving…or being the one who is cooking and cleaning… but I have learned that when we do not stop our busyness we miss his whispers to us. It’s like the busyness clouds our mind and we cannot hear god…I have learned I need to slow down and be Mary sometimes… even in my own home… this allows my mind to not be so cluttered with what is on my to do list next and it frees my mind up to hear HIM speak… 🙂
thank you for this!
Gail Noe says
Thank you for this post. Learning to receive is certainly a grace gift. One that I have difficulty with also. I have been submitting my to do list but I am learning the Father is a relationship God. This indeed is a new & challenging place to be. I am thankful God loves me enough to help me through the process and change
Beth Williams says
I’m like you also. A Martha doer person. If someone is sick, in hospital. dealing with illness I am the one who wants to immediately make a meal for them. Constantly want to help out in each & every situation. There is merit in that. God wants us to help others-just not to the detriment of spending time with Him. God doesn’t want our busyness to be hinder our Mary time with Him & miss out on His Whispers of Rest for our souls. There is a time to be both Martha & Mary. We are robbing others of joy of giving & helping out if we don’t receive His grace gift. Let’s all strive to be a little bit Martha, take some time for soul care & be Mary’s at His feet!
I was a mother-of-the-bride for the first time yesterday. And I experienced this first hand as Christian friends of mine tirelessly worked in the kitchen, serving up food and clearing off tables and washing the china plates and silverware and glasses. Every time I would try to come in and help, they would shoo me out of the kitchen, telling me I needed to spend more time in my “uncomfortable zone” (NOT working and being busy), a gentle and loving jibe to my Martha-ness. What an enormous blessing they were to demand that I accept their work at this time as an act of love and grace poured out. A rare time, indeed, that I was on the receiving end. And I am certainly feeling overwhelmed by such love!
Rebecca Jones says
Finally, we are learning to be Mary. Choose Jesus the one needful thing. I have been that way, trying to pay my way or earn my way. What Jesus does is a gift, we need to receive from Him, and if others are a blessing that is grace and favor. Just down the freeway from yo in Jackson, I grew up in Atlanta.
Liana Lim says
Thank you Maggie for this insightful sharing. I tend to be a Martha. What ‘hit’ me most in your article is “If I was so terrible at receiving a few meals, some shared groceries, and a guest bed, how much less was I receiving God’s most precious gift? How much was I hustling for my own salvation?” I really need to be more of a Mary.