The Martha-Spirit: Why Extroverts Can Be Marthas and You Probably Are Too

I’ve always disliked the story of Mary and Martha. Whenever it was the topic of a sermon in church or a ladies’ bible study, I mentally checked out. At those times, I didn’t identify with either woman and did not foresee how I ever could.

Sure, Mary is the sweet one living in the moment, but she also struck me as a little too sweet for my taste. When I pictured Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, I imagined that perpetually wide-eyed girl at every church event who’s bursting to tell you how good God is.

Gross.

I know, a terrible thought to have, but you know the type. If not, you probably are that type. And then there was Martha. I didn’t have anything in common with her either. Equally deplorable to Mary, Martha seemed stuffy, stiff-lipped, and too concerned with keeping things in order to have any fun. But as is always the case when we forget that the people in the Bible are just that, people, and that despite being removed from us by a few centuries, their tendencies and follies aren’t so dissimilar to the ones you and I commonly experience, I couldn’t place myself in their situation. It’s one of the many reasons why a several-thousand year-old text remains relevant: it’s living, as are the stories and people woven into its verses.

This past week while reading Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist, (a book I recommend so highly I might have to do a full review of it later,) I was reminded of that old story I’ve always hated. Mind you, I still have a few chapters remaining to read, but so far, the author hasn’t mentioned Mary or Martha once. So, it became pretty clear while I was reading this book and I continued to be reminded of Mary and Martha, that this was a pushing of the Holy Spirit I could not ignore.

Fine, I resigned, and decided to re-examine the story, those few verses in Luke packed so full of truth that it intimidates me with the realization that the whole of the Bible is equally dense with revelation. What could I, an extroverted people-person who thrives on lack of planning have to learn from these archetypal sisters? First, dismantling my preconceptions that these women were that, archetypes, was the first step.

Truthfully, Mary was not always 100% in love with Jesus, always wanting to sit at his feet, and always preferring to consume the word of God than to get caught up in sundry duties of daily life. Her sister Martha, who I always envision being the older, somewhat haggish one, probably knew how to loosen up herself and had her moments of reveling in God’s grace. The difference lie in their default: Mary’s default was to be still and know that He is God. Martha’s? To make everything appear to be in order to make her spirit feel like it was also.

Oh.

I’m a Martha.

Not a traditional Type-A, high-strung Martha, but I’m a different kind of Martha. Maybe you are too.

Martha manifests herself in the people-person who, as extroverted as she is, needs alone time to restore her soul, but feels depressed when she’s by herself. She makes it a point to isolate herself as seldom as possible, for fear of the loneliness or dread that could creep in.

Martha can be seen in the ambitious self-starting woman who holds herself to such a standard of beauty, accomplishment, or intelligence that she isn’t willing to sit alone in her closet and talk to her Savior, because her mind is buzzing with the to-do list of things that could be getting done and it won’t leave the forefront of her mind.

Martha shows up in the hospitable, blessed woman, who has space and wisdom and friendship to extend, but wears out her spirit thinking she must be a friend to everyone, a confidant to all, a counselor to those she barely knows.

Wherever you fall on or in between these Martha manifestations as I like to call them, the theme remains the same: purposeless business. Those gifts or inborn characteristics imparted to us by the Father have been abused and misused for the comfort of our own fragile minds. We are addicted either to being the best time-manager, the best friend, the best Christian even, that we forget who it’s for. Not only that, we don’t realize that, in the eyes of the Savior, while we claim to be honoring with our overextending, He is wishing we would choose the better thing.

The being instead of doing. Resting in not who God made us to be necessarily, but simply in who He is. Who is the Father? He is love and He is incomprehensible. A lifetime of stillness would not unravel all his mysteries to us, but every moment which chooses to be rather than to do models “the better thing” Mary chose.

For Martha in Luke 10, she likely looked around her house, at all the chores that could have been done and all the food that could have been served when Jesus said, “Martha, Martha.” For many of us we would look around at with fear-filled eyes had Jesus called us out in front of our dearest friends. An exercise routine, a tiring friendship, a fruitless obligation, a leadership opportunity, a self-standard of excellence that God doesn’t hold us to. They may not even be bad things, but things that would be bad for us to continue. Recently, I’ve laid aside a few friendships which were probably never very beneficial to either person in pursuit of the ability to be more fully present in the relationships I know are worthwhile ones given by God. Perhaps you have a position at church, in your job or in your family that used to fill you and now brings you to anger and tears more often than you would care to admit.

I urge you to read the Mary and Martha passage one more time. The sooner we are willing to admit we are one manifestation of Martha or another, the sooner the Father can draw us back to stillness and to knowing. When we know the Father, we know who we are, and who we are not, as Neiquist says many times in her book. Probably more common than the Jezebel-spirit, a Martha-spirit has slivered into the lives of women everywhere, all types of them. INTJs, ESFPs, over-achievers and under-achievers, planners, and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-ers. I think it will be a continual process, discovering which Martha-type we are most susceptible to, and it’s a never-ending journey of entering stillness and knowing-ness amid the things we must do. I don’t want to waste another day being an extroverted, people-pleasing, spontaneous Martha. I want to continue to be all of those things while never choosing that over sitting at Jesus’ feet.

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at [a]Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And [b]Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

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