Go, go, go. Do, do more, you're still not doing enough. Get it all done, and do it seamlessly. Be organized in every aspect of your life. Discipline your child to be the most well-mannered and well behaved kid on the block. Your two year old is whining and not listening to you in public? You poor dear. It's a shame that means he won't succeed later on in life. Get all the laundry done and put away. Heaven forbid there's a few loads that sit in the basket for a while. Keep the kitchen immaculate at all times, even when you're cooking. Dirty dishes sitting in the sink? (Gasp.) The shame. Always say yes when you're asked to do something, even if you do have to create an extra hour in the day to get it done. I mean, if you say no, then what would people think? Don't take time to do anything fun for yourself. You really should be doing something productive instead. Always. Decide to take a break anyway? Well, then you should at least feel guilty about it. The house? Well, it must always, always be clean. After all, you never know when someone might drop by. You don't want them thinking you do nothing all day when they see the dust and dog hair, do you? Be everywhere at once. Be everything to everyone. C'mon, that's easy. I mean, you are superwoman, right?
Okay moms, have you ever felt this way? Maybe you're not even a mom at all, but you feel these pressures to be all things to all people at all times--and to be perfect at all of it. For me, struggling with this is nothing new that started with the birth of my son. Sheesh. What is it with us women? Why do we think this way? Why do we set ourselves up for failure like this? The immense pressures and expectations of being perfect women and the impossible to-do lists that we hold over our heads daily are eating away at us. If we can't live up to these expectations and get it all done, then does that mean that we are failures? If I'm not a shiny little, squeaky clean, always-smiling, never-stopping, go-til-I-drop super woman, then there must be something wrong with me. Tell me, people, is this the truth? Nope. It's a big fat lie, and it's not from God.
I had a particularly hard week last week fighting against these feelings. As a mom I was feeling (and am still struggling not to feel) like I was a big fat failure. It was one of those weeks where my two year old son acted like the epitome of what you think of when you think of a two year old. If there was ever any question about why they call it "the terrible two's", then all one would have had to do was to come to my house this past week and see it in action. I love my son more than I could even express here in words. But, some days, it is hard being a mom! We dealt with everything that week--whining (oh, the whining), being aggressive towards other children, not sharing, not accepting no, throwing fits, an embarrassing grocery store incident (moms--you know what I'm talking about), and being disrespectful. No matter what I did, nothing worked. I was doubting my abilities and gifts as a mother. I thought that it surely had something to do with what I was not doing. Maybe if I just did this or that, then everything would be better.
Then God gave me a little grace. God gave me exactly what I needed--my friend Marty. An experienced Mom with two children in college, her first-born son and my son are like carbon copies of one another. When she tells stories about her son when he was preschool-aged, it's like I'm listening to myself talk about my life. I know she knows what it's like to raise a strong-willed but incredibly loving and amazing little boy. She has come out of it on the other side, and her child who kept her constantly on her toes testing, testing, and testing some more is now a very responsible, caring, respectful, strong, level-headed, smart young man who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. She had the perspective that I needed. Sometimes God places people in my life at just the right moments. Do you know what I mean? What started out as just a quick conversation in the hallway of our church ended up to be a holy moment. God was using her, and she probably didn't even know how much. The thing that struck me the most was when she said, "Jenni, you're being too hard on yourself." This statement brought tears to my eyes. It was just what I needed to hear. It felt freeing --like God was giving me permission to just relax and stop beating myself up so much. Just stop. Take a breath. Calm down.
Through all this, my mind keeps coming back to another very busy woman I know named Martha. She is a woman of good intentions. She is known for being hospitable, productive, a loving sister, loyal to her friends, a woman of unwavering faith, a planner, and a do-er. She seems like she has it all together. Okay, I have to admit that I don't exactly know Martha personally, but I feel like I do. She actually lived a very long time ago, way before my time--a little over 2000 years ago to be exact. A couple of important guys named Luke and John wrote about her in a book called The Bible.
Let's be honest, Martha has gotten a bad wrap from the Church for the past 2000 plus years. We lump her in there with Thomas, poor guy. We have forgotten all her good qualities. Or maybe we just overlook them completely. How can we forget, after all, that she was one of Jesus' closest and most loyal friends. When her beloved brother Lazarus died, Jesus came to visit and comfort her and her sister (John 11:17-20). She told Jesus that she knew he could have healed her brother when he was sick if he had only arrived sooner. She pushed her faith even further when she told him that he could still heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead if he wanted to (John 11:21-22). Now that is some astounding faith! When Jesus responded by asking her if she believed that he was the "resurrection and the life", she did not doubt and agreed whole heartedly that he was the Christ (John 11:23-37). Jesus ended up granting her request, and afterwards, she hosted a dinner, in which Jesus was the guest of honor. What a wonderful way to show her gratitude. But even before all this happened, she had a good relationship with Jesus. Before Lazarus fell ill, when he and his disciples were passing through Bethany, Luke says that "a woman named Martha opened her home to him" (Luke 10:38). I don't know about you, but opening up my home to thirteen dirty, traveling strangers would not be high up on my list of things to do, but it was for Martha. She had a true, loving servant's heart.
But, I must mention that there were qualities in Martha which got her in trouble. She, like so many of us women, had a very hard time slowing down. The way she saw it, there was always something to do to prepare for something else. She had to have the cleanest house and the best cooked meal. She had to be the hostess with the mostess, and she was just plain too hard on herself. When she opened her home to Jesus and his disciples when they passed through her home town, she missed out on the special moments with Jesus. While her sister Mary "sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said", "Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made" (Luke 10:39-40a). In fact, Martha even gets frustrated that Mary isn't helping with the hostessing duties and tells Jesus to get her to start doing more (Luke 10:40b). But, Jesus' response is golden...
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
He very well could have been saying, "Jenni, Jenni...you are worried and upset about many things..." Or he could have been talking to any one of us women who are constantly doing and going...
What is that "one thing" that is needed that he talks about? What was it that Mary chose that was better? Jesus was Jewish, and he grew up learning and devoting himself to the Jewish scriptures. He was referring to Psalm 27. In verse 4 it says,
One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.
Even after hearing this, Martha still struggled. Just before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany again, and Martha planned a dinner in honor of him. During the dinner she is described as the one who "served". Her brother Lazarus and her sister Mary, on the other hand, chose to spend their time with Jesus that night. Mary even anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair in the famous story that parallels him being prepared for his burial (John 12:1-3). Martha missed out!
I truly believe that all of Martha's going and doing came from an absolute place of love and good intentions. But, the message got lost in translation. All Jesus wanted was for her to stop what she was doing and just sit and be with him. That's all. But, her anxiety got the best of her, and it's getting the best of me as well. Martha, I think we're cut out of the same cloth.
What about the Proverbs 31 woman? Was she a Martha or a Mary? Well, I think she probably had the best qualities of both. She was like Martha in that she provided a wonderful home for her family. She took care of her family and friends and showed her love to them by her steadfast actions. But instead of being too busy to soak in her Lord's presence, I think the Proverbs 31 woman was like Mary. I picture her as a woman who had an incredible peace about her as she went along in her daily activities--a peace that only comes from spending time in prayer, devotion, and worship to her God. Yes, Martha opened her home and heart to Jesus, but Mary let him fill her heart as well.
There is much to learn from Martha concerning having a servant's heart. But when does having a servant's heart turn into being a slave to getting things done and trying to solve problems by doing more? Maybe I should be a little more like Martha's sister, Mary. Sit at the feet of Christ. Talk with God. Just be still and listen. Open that Bible on my nightstand that has been neglected lately because of all the time spent trying to be super wife and mom. What's more important? Nurturing my faith in Christ and spending time with my family or folding the clean laundry piled up on the guest bed, dealing with the stack of dishes in the sink, and plucking dog hair off my couch? That should be a no brainer.