As you know if you have even skimmed our Flower Essence Guide, my spiritual beliefs are not exactly tied to one religion. But in my childhood, I went to a congregational church and most of the stories I learned were biblical ones. I liked the stories though I never really understood them. What was going on with Sampson and his hair? Why did all the people have to drown but Noah and his family? Why would a dancing girl want a head on a plate? So many riveting tales but so beyond me.
One story that cropped up a lot was the story of Mary and Martha. Coming from a patriarchal clan that talked ad nauseam about the value of productivity, goals and doing everything perfectly, I came to believe that Martha was on track in her bustle to prepare the food. Much as I loved Mary, I didn’t get her choice to sit around. My family of origin’s motto was, “Work ’til the work is done” which translated into me and one of my brothers doing the chores while other members of the family disappeared to their rooms.
Frankly, I found this disappearing act downright annoying, because it meant I had to do more work before the work could be described as done. It never occurred to me to question whether the work had to get done. Somehow this dynamic got set against the Mary and Martha story in my mind, leaving me feeling both aggrieved and uncertain whether Jesus would approve of me doing the work of several family members or even doing my own chores. There seemed to be the suggestion in the tale that maybe work wasn’t the most important thing. But then why did everyone in my family keep telling me to work ’til the work was done? This story got under my skin but I didn’t know what to do about it. Life seemed to require me to be more Martha than Mary so I just carried on in this vein. For like fifty years.
However, my arm break in November became a literal break from my habitual Martha bustle and an extended journey into Mary world. With my arm casted from top to bottom and pins holding the whole thing together, I found the office world was beyond me as I could not do even simple tasks like screwing on a dropper top on a bottle. In the kitchen, I could boil water but not open a can. Basically there was little I could do even when I tried to use my teeth to breach the gap in my skills.
Shut down from my lifelong “work til the work is done” mindset, I found it oddly restful to sink into a state of just being there. It was wonderfully expansive to settle into having no more specific task than appreciating the simple things like being warm or watching the clouds. In the emptiness, there were so many small joys to savor and always the creator there to visit with and love.
Jim, who by necessity was still wearing his Martha apron, would come home from his teaching job to whip around the home front. When he paused for breath, he would ask me what I had done all day. I had never done anything but my days felt wonderfully full. In my literal brokenness, I had experienced an emptying out that was a time of surprising, restorative peace. Sometimes a mind idea would light a temporary fire of “you can’t just stop doing!” within me, and I would try to do something I couldn’t do, then this mind blip would flame out and I would return to restful stillness and letting go.
With one arm in play, what I expected of myself became very simple. I wasn’t meant to “work til the work is done.” By default, I allowed myself the free pass to Mary territory, and I liked it.
But now both arms are back in play. And everything feels different than before because I see the binding of this “work til the work is done” idea more clearly than before and realize I don’t have to be run by it anymore. Now the roles of Mary and Martha are both choices for me and the story of Mary and Martha has been turned on its head. I see it is not about one person doing it right and another doing it wrong. Instead it is a story of each person finding her way to what she is called to do as an expression of her love for God and as an unwinding of her own individual spiritual bindings. Additionally, there is no need for anyone to think, “I am a Martha and always will be a Martha” as I had long thought. Instead, each moment is a blank slate in which we can seek if this is a Martha moment for us or a Mary moment.
For me this new understanding means going very slowly to figure out what I am supposed to be or do each day, asking for a lot of moment to moment guidance, and accepting that I am going to stumble and fall into my old pattern of doing too much despite my best intentions. I stumble into doing too much because working too much can sometimes feel more comfortable to me than waiting in the unknown to find out what I am meant to do or not do in any given hour. Fortunately, as I ride with training wheels into this new life, I have the blessing of an arm that gets very sore and a system that gets tired quick when I fall back into “work ’til the work is done” mode and this reminds me to stop and go savor the clouds again.