What Are We Really Supposed To Be Doing?

I gave the “wisdom offering” today at the sweet little church that lets me drift in and out. Since I actually wrote something down, I thought I’d post it on my badly neglected blog. Besides, it’s about a Mary. You know I can’t resist a MARY story. Here ’tis:

Most women, if they’ve had any exposure to the New Testament, are familiar with the story of the sisters Mary and Martha and a party in Martha’s house. Luke tells the story. He was a Greek gentile who put together a long account about the life of Jesus, and much of it focuses on the women surrounding Jesus. That is literally true, because it’s in Luke’s gospel we get the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, how she got the news of her pregnancy, and what she thought about it. A physician, Luke must have been a good listener, a guy women could talk to. So it may have been that this other Mary, Martha’s sister, told him about what happened at the party. I doubt if Martha would have told him.

Jesus is the guest, and he’s talking and sharing his ideas. The guys are sitting around listening, asking questions. The women are in the kitchen, doing what women were supposed to do, all except one. That would be Mary, the sister of the hostess. She’s sitting right down there with the guys, listening and learning. She’s not giving a thought to what’s going on any place else. This is not what she’s supposed to be doing!

Martha finally has enough. “Why don’t you tell her to get up and come help me?” she demands of Jesus. He answers her, “Martha, Martha, you are troubled and careful about many things, but Mary has chosen the good part, and it shall not be taken away from her.” See? I doubt Martha would have shared that.

Kathleen Norris comments in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith:

I can hear Martha muttering, her housewife’s meter running, as she is so overrun with the work of hospitality—the cleaning to be done, the food to be prepared and served—that she risks becoming inhospitable. She’s my Type-A side, rushing to get the job done, but at too great a cost. Mary is pure Type-B, the procrastinator and dreamer, the person who knows that no small part of welcoming a guest is the ability to settle down and listen. She is my better self, the one I have to strive for.

I’m drawn to the fact that this author recognizes that each of us has both Martha and Mary elements. I know I do.

A large part of this summer, settling in after a cross-country move, I’ve spent going through files, trying to consolidate a vast amount of paper down to a few file drawers. I am in awe at the meticulous records I once kept. Both my husband and I were always self-employed, as well as owning jointly some rental property. We lived in the litigious and exigent state of California, so we kept each entity separate from the other, separate bank accounts, separate sets of books. I was the Master Record Keeper, the Martha of the two of us. I dutifully filed and retained every tax return and all the material to support them. We kept it all, at least records dating back to the requisite 2003, hauling the whole load with us when we moved to Mexico in 2006. We stored  them in a line of formidable gray filing cabinets.

Over the last seven plus years, I’ve subtracted nothing and added more records from our life in Mexico, a paper-loving bureaucracy if ever there was one. If you are an immigrant, there’s even more paper to keep track of than “normal.” Did I mention electric bills? In Mexico you are nothing, no one, without proof that you are plugged in and are paying for it. For good measure I’ve kept every statement, as well as records from Telmex, Telcel, SIAPA (that’s water and sewer), and even Global Gas.

This summer all this emerged. The documents had rippled edges from coastal humidity. Rusty paperclips and staples were embedded in bundles of statements and receipts, each page containing information you don’t just chunk in the garbage. To burn or to shred? Environmentally responsible, I’ve been shredding. It is rote work. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Three bags full. No, five. No, six. More. Evidently I have channeled Martha big-time for a long time, doing what I was supposed to do.

But what I’ve also found in those filing cabinets are records of my many Mary moments – journals and correspondence kept from the late 70’s, mid 80’s, longer entries from the early 90’s. They are introspective, inquisitive, seeking and searching. Sometimes woefully dense or painfully naive, but at other times, dare I say, poetic? These are my “good part.” They tell me much more of who I am and how I’ve progressed than the many bags of now confetti-ed financial records. Here I find letters exchanged with a wise woman mentor as I struggled through the challenges of early marriage. There, I come upon reflections about overcoming cynicism in the face of one war after another. Those are a welcome resource given current headlines! I find thank you letters written to me, when I myself have been the mentor. Oh, those are nice. And here, a long letter to my parents I wrote after their Christmas visit with us in 1991. It is filled with a litany of gratitude for all that they have done, not just for Christmas, but for all my life, for how I have been raised, for the values they have instilled.

My mom saved it! I find it now in a folder marked “SUSAN,” retrieved from her filing cabinets and sent on to me by my faithful sister-in-law, the one who ended up with the brunt of settling Mom’s estate a couple of years ago. Writing that letter was perhaps the best use of time I ever spent. It blesses me now, as I re-evaluate what seems a life time emerging from these ancient Penda-flex files. Could I have ever spent moments more valuable than listening and writing down my Mary moments?

Oh, I will still keep financial records and file returns. I’ve just finished and filed the required one for 2013, in time to swear to myself that this year will be different. I will have records for 2014 in order, and I won’t be waiting until the last minute – again. But somehow, after this cathartic cleaning out, I’m not feeling the mantle of heavy guilt that my silently raging Martha part would impose on me. My “good part,” my Mary part, will probably keep on doing what she’s always done, even if she’s supposed to be doing something else. And that’s a good thing. I have it on the best authority.

4 responses to “What Are We Really Supposed To Be Doing?

  1. Sending love and hugs……We are sisters from another mother for sure. Hope to catch up with you this winter, somehow, somewhere.

  2. Thanks for these precious thoughts on the Mary & Martha in each of us, Susan! I’m so grateful for the stories about women in the Bible ~ our little Bible Study group has had fruitful discussion about this one. How wonderful Jesus loved both Mary & Martha ~ and Martha later expressed her faith, turned to understanding at her brother’s tomb!!!

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