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Taming My Inner Martha When I Long to Be a Mary

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Danielle Center - published on 04/10/16

I thought resolving to pray like a rock star would be enough ...

My spiritual director often gives me a biblical passage to meditate upon for the weeks between our meetings. I’m always a bit tickled by the passages he selects, as they indicate his outlook on my spiritual state on any given month.

When last month I was assigned the story of Martha and Mary, I was a little surprised. Even so, I started working through the passage.

When I got the assignment, my first thought was Oh, this should be rather simple. Good thing I already know the story and have the resolution to pray like a rock star, anyway! I figured that was very Mary-like from the get-go.

But as I started considering the passage, I realized something. I show up for my holy hours with a pile of books and meditations and printouts and journal pages and colored pens ready to go. I check into my prayer time like, “Oh, hello, God, here’s a laundry list of things I’m ready to talk about. With you. Right now. Let’s get started, okay, so, first on the list …” and I checkmark my way through my prayer intentions.

It turns out I’m Martha, even in prayer!

Of course having spiritual reading lists, or novenas or other prayer aids is not a bad thing. Martha of Bethany is a saint, after all. People do need to eat, and party prep is important. Martha preparing food for Jesus et al. wasn’t “wrong.”

Her attitude, though … where was her heart in all of it?

I think that’s what I was meant to ask myself: Where is my heart in all of this? Is it just caught up in the bustle (I’m very extroverted. I love me some bustle), or am I really dedicating myself to the Lord’s work? Is my prayer a talking to and with God, or a talking at him?

Martha was privileged to be hosting a party for Jesus. I feel like popular spirituality can sometimes tempt me toward being like, “Oh, well then, just host the best party you can, sister … for Jesus.”

But Jesus calls us beyond that.

It’s been a process, discovering and balancing the Martha who overshadows my inner Mary. Slowly, slowly, I’ve been whittling down the pile of things I take to holy hours. Slowly, slowly, I’ve been trying to let my heart unwind, and just sit and listen. Slowly, slowly, I’ve been trying to tune myself to the gentle sound of God’s love instead of the myriad frantic, rushing thoughts and worries that course through my mind like whitewater veins of prayer.

I think that that’s a key difference between Mary and Martha.

In the story, Jesus says to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.”

Perhaps if Mary had been serving, she still would have been coming from a place of internal peace and centeredness. Perhaps if Martha had been the one sitting at the feet of our Lord, her mind would have still been all over the place: “Oh, and this one concern, Jesus, and this other fear, Jesus …”

I’ll bet she fidgeted.

It’s a process. And handing over our anxieties and worries is not easy. But — think of how excellent it must be to sit there, at the feet of Jesus, unperturbed and calm.

So, yesterday I started.

“Jesus,” I said, “you’re going to need to be the one who handles this stuff, not me.”

And then I just sat and tried to let my heart unwind.

It wasn’t easy for me. And yet it was good to be there, with Jesus, just peaceful and loving.

And tonight I have another opportunity. I get to decide again: Will I approach this prayer time like Martha or like Mary?

Habits are built over time. Decisions, though, are made daily. These eventually form habits. So, today, again, I can choose to open my heart and sit next to Jesus.

And you know what?

I do prefer it there.

Danielle Center’sweaknesses include: wanderlust, fresh berries, and learning about new saints. Read more about her life, her faith, and her family at

FaithVirgin Mary
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