I have a love-hate relationship with the month of August. I love the start of the new school year and the smell of fresh crayons and new books. I hate that the lazy days of summer are ending and will soon give way to ultra-scheduled days. I love the promise of cooler nights and crinkly, autumn leaves. I hate the overgrown weeds in the backyard and piles of vacation laundry in the hallway. I love the busyness of preparing for the new school year, but I don’t love that I get too busy with preparations and don’t make enough time to pray.
Every August, I feel like Martha but wish I could be Mary. After all, Jesus did say that Mary chose “the better part,” (Luke 10:42) right?
As I think about Martha and Mary, my mind wanders, and I find myself in a theater. I am an onlooker viewing the Martha and Mary scene playing out on stage. I stand sheepishly in the wings, out of sight. I don’t want Jesus to catch sight of me, because I’m embarrassed that I’ve been a stranger lately. I’m not there for even a breath, though, before Jesus notices me and taps the seat of the chair next to him.
“Come and sit, just for a bit,” he says.
I feel bad that I have interrupted this iconic scene and even worse that I haven’t prayed enough this month, but I oblige him. Sitting down next to him, I’m surprised that Jesus doesn’t seem to be judging me for not praying. In fact, all I sense is compassion and love.
As if reading my thoughts, Jesus looks me in the eyes and says, “Go easy on yourself.”
Tears flood my vision. I try to choke them back but can’t even squeak out a reply. So I simply nod.
Still processing this overwhelming compassion, I silently observe the scene. From this vantage point, it occurs to me that there are two characters: Martha and Mary. I ponder this.
I realize that the things that keep me so busy in August are things that need to be done for our family to function well in the coming months. I’ve been longing to discard my internal Martha in favor of Mary, but Martha is a critical part of my role as a parent and member of my family. Mary and Martha are both essential characters; they are both necessary for the scene to play.
I observe Jesus saying to Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part.” This comment has always confounded me. Interestingly, as I sit there next to Jesus, better thoughts emerge than my dichotomous self-judgments, and my perfectionism regarding prayer falls away. When I am near Jesus, another way of seeing emerges that reconciles my simplistic judgments of myself. It’s a way of seeing that views everything in a more compassionate, more loving, and less judgmental way. I wonder, could this be related to “the better part” of which he speaks?
This year, I think I’ll take the cue and lay down my love-hate relationship with August. I’m going to accept Jesus’ compassion and extend this compassion to others and to myself. And I’m going to embrace my inner Martha and my inner Mary. It turns out, they’re both essential characters.
Image: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.