This past week, I had the wonderful opportunity to host my husband’s family for the Thanksgiving holiday. His dad came from Tuesday to Friday, and his mom, brother, sister-in-law, and niece were here from Friday to Sunday. Truth be told, it is the first time that we’ve ever had company over that long since we were married, but it was an enjoyable challenge. It was a challenge because we (my husband, me, and our daughter) tend to be introverts who don’t like being around people consistently. But it was enjoyable because I considered it to be a HUGE blessing that we had the means this year to actually have people over. If you followed my prior posts over the past year, then you know that we never had the money to really host anyone at all. So to be at a place where we can was beyond wonderful, and I was grateful to God for this opportunity.
But going through the motions of last week has made me more reflective this week, and the story of Mary and Martha came to mind. I haven’t met a Christian woman yet who does not know the story of Mary and Martha, and in case you happen to be that one person, here you go:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 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.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Now, I’m not sure what kinds of teaching you have heard on this passage, but I’ve basically heard the same story:
Martha should have been listening to Jesus too like Mary was. She shouldn’t have been bothered with all of that housework and stuff and realized that God is the chief thing. So we apply that today by saying that if you are really involved in your church, in ministries, etc., then we shouldn’t be too bothered by what our homes look like. People who keep their homes clean aren’t spending enough time with the Lord and doing the Lord’s work.
Basically, the way I’ve heard this story over the years is that an unkempt home is like a badge of honor for a woman who is really doing the Lord’s work and about the Lord’s business. Being so devoted to Him, she doesn’t have the time to mess with the trivialities of maintaining her home. Now, I obviously disagree with this interpretation of this passage solely. While there is some truth to the overarching idea, the way it’s worked out is where I disagree. So let me explain.
The Lord should always come first
First, I do believe that the Lord should always come first in your life, no matter what’s going on. If I’m serving or trying to host anything and haven’t started it all off with seeking the Lord for continued strength, grace, and wisdom to accomplish my responsibilities, then I am in sin. I have depended on my own strength and knowledge to get something done, when I know I should always seek God first. So in the instance of having family over for the past week, I was praying for wisdom and strength leading up to their arrival. And even after they arrived, I was still waking up early to spend time in prayer and study of the Word before each day’s activities began. Also, because I figured my husband and I wouldn’t have the time to do our nightly Bible study, I suggested that we both get up early and take the time to do it. Truly, it was a blessing for both of us, and we were able to continually put God first while having family over.
So in reference to the scripture passage, Christ was clearly on point by telling Martha that only one thing was necessary, and we should directly apply that.
Trusting in the Lord is the answer for anxiety and stress
I am soooo guilty of always being anxious, worried, and stressed out over huge things and even seemingly minor things. Leading up to Thanksgiving, my biggest source of anxiety came from trying to stay within the budget while having family over who probably aren’t even thinking about your personal budget. Truly, I was getting really worked up for a while before I remembered that all I should be doing is trusting God. Now, what did I trust God for?
Well, I was trusting God to give me the wisdom to know where to shop for food at good prices and for wisdom to know when to let go of ideas and plans that I had made for the sake of maintaining a budget and so that I wouldn’t be too stressed and overwhelmed getting things done. I was trusting God to give me the grace and strength to serve others for that period of time in a true spirit of love, hospitality, and generosity. So that even in times when I was tired (that happened) or annoyed over an indiscretion of one of my guests (that also happened a number of times) I would be fully guided and led by the Spirit of God, and that the Spirit would rule and reign over me throughout the entire time so that I wouldn’t act out in my flesh but continue to serve others with a genuine heart and disposition. Basically, I was trusting God to work all of this out and to give me everything I needed to do it, and He did.
So in reference to the scripture passage, Christ pointed out Martha’s sin of being anxious and troubled over things. Here she was in the very presence of God, and she was having a mental field trip and stressing, but her sin is nothing new because the Israelites were guilty of this multiple times throughout the Old Testament. So we can apply this practically by reminding ourselves and each other to be fully dependent on God in every situation and circumstance…to depend on God for strength, wisdom, grace, and guidance when we’re hosting and serving family and friends that we love and even when the table that we’re serving is set in front of our enemies.
You can’t use the Lord as an excuse to neglect your God-given responsibilities
Okay, so this is probably where I’m differing from everything that I’ve learned about this passage. Growing up, I heard a lot of stupid excuses from people who were trying to use the Lord to get out of other responsibilities. Some people were so busy doing the Lord’s work that they couldn’t hold a job. Other people couldn’t spend time with their families and children because there was just too much to do for the Lord. I mean, even the Pharisees tried this out by saying that they were devoting so much money to the service of the Lord so that they wouldn’t have to care for their elderly parents (even allowing Jews to make that excuse too), and Jesus called them out on that, calling them hypocrites. (Matthew 15:1-9)
Likewise, I do not believe that we, as women, should thank God for our homes (maybe even our husband and children) and then use the Lord as an excuse to neglect caring for our homes in the proper way. I’m not saying that your home has to be spotless each day, but regular maintenance and cleaning can go a very long way. For instance, over this visit, my sister-in-law pointed out that she could see the vacuum lines in the carpet every day she came over. I told her that with having a toddler, I have to be on top of keeping the floors clean because my daughter likes to pick things up and pop them in her mouth. The day they left (the morning of, before they departed), I was even more thankful that God had given me the grace to be diligent in cleaning while they were visiting because I ended up finding four needles in the carpet that could have ended up in my daughter’s mouth and throat, and even someone’s foot.
So I would never condone negligence of your God-given responsibilities (stressing the point that God specifically gave you those responsibilities to handle and maintain and not neglect). I think that it takes godly wisdom to balance between your responsibilities and being more and more devoted to the Lord. From what I’ve found, cleaning a little each day (like have a weekly schedule where you do something each day) goes a very long way in keeping your home clean overall. Even with family over, I never spent more than 15-20 minutes to clean up at a time, and I had plenty of time to fellowship and spend time with them too. You just have to be efficient in how you do your work.
In the case of Mary and Martha, Jesus obviously wasn’t telling Martha that serving was a bad thing to do whenever He came to visit because when He visited again (John 12:1-8), Martha was serving again. What was the difference? I believe she understood what the priorities were and that her heart and mind were in check.
Just being real, your guests and family will appreciate it
Finally, I just want to appeal to the practicality of taking care of your home. Think about this, when you visit someone else, and their home is a hot mess, what are your thoughts? If you ask to use the bathroom and find dried urine around the toilet seat or the sink dirty or the hand towels dirty, do you feel welcomed? If you come over often and are told every time to ignore some obvious mess, what do you start to think? Even if that person is really involved in ministry work, you tend to think that they should take some of that time to take care of their home.
Basically, my point is that there is a practical side to this. I am quite sure that Jesus appreciated the food that Martha had prepared and the refreshing drink. Considering that He wasn’t traveling with lots of money and the fact that you weren’t going to find a Holiday Inn Express anywhere near Bethany or Judea, I’m sure He was very grateful for her hospitality. And I believe that we are always grateful (or at least should be grateful) for the hospitality we are shown.
Ladies, just keep it in perspective. Realize that in everything you do, you do it as to the Lord, and it should be done with His grace, wisdom, and strength. Keep the Lord first this holiday season, and also remember to keep your home in a way that you can always be hospitable to others.
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 4:8-11a