Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Martha, Martha!

In one of those wonderfully serendipitous events that occur when God decides not to sign His work, I came home on the feast day of my Patron Saint, Martha, to find that the contractors who have been laboring on renovations to my house for nearly two years had left dinner for me. I reveled in the gift of being able to shove a casserole into the oven without any fanfare, turn up the heat, and sit down to catch up on my latest reading while waiting for my groom to wander in from his afternoon golf game. It was “found time”--time I hadn’t scheduled, programmed, or corralled within my never-ending “to do” list.

I chose Martha to be my Patron when I came into the Church because her character, at least in her first appearance in Scripture, is so like mine. And I come by it honestly, the daughter of a woman who--I am not kidding--once declined to make a visit to see us because her house needed cleaning. And who, once ensconced in our home, would often decline to enjoy the local sights because there was laundry to do or a kitchen to tidy (mine). I got a full dose of that gene, and it came fully equipped in my case with the optional, full-voiced whine. Mom at least generally served in silence. Like Martha, when set upon, I would complain loudly to anyone who would listen.

Encumbered by feminist baggage in my early married life, I took great umbrage at the thought that I might do one pennyweight’s worth of work around the house more than my new husband. This was, after all, a modern, fifty-fifty marriage, at least when it came to chores. (I do feel compelled to point out that I was more than happy to relinquish all bill-paying duties to him, with nary a thought of equal participation.)

In one memorable, ridiculous, phase, I insisted that we keep a log of chores to make sure that tasks were equally distributed. They weren’t, and it was years before I got past the indignity of the fact that--surprise--I was in fact, the lady of the house with all that that historically entailed.

It’s a tough balancing act to be a working woman with delusions of household grandeur, even with a modern, helpful husband like mine. When my groom and I arrived home from medical school or residency, the last thing I wanted to do was cook, or clean or manage the house. What should have been a joy became a burden because I looked at it from the outside in rather than the inside out. My whining phase lasted far too long, I am embarrassed to admit, and was compounded by a prideful streak that, despite the admonitions of my loving groom, kept me from engaging help. But with time I got better at juggling my schedule so that things got accomplished. And I learned a certain flexibility in household standards, at least when the kids came along. If the health department wasn’t shutting me down and I didn’t have to wade through hip-deep rubble in any of the rooms (except my son’s--another story), I figured I was all right. And with the gentle tutelage of my husband, I learned to put family first in the temporal order of things.

But there were still too many instances when I forwent the pleasures of the moment because the dishes or the laundry or the dusting beckoned, and did those chores not with joy but with resentment. It wasn’t until my husband and I moved to Tennessee, to a new home and a new job that I discovered the pleasure that comes when an active life is balanced and centered. That comes from understanding one's role and one's service from the inside out. That comes when one stops keeping a score sheet and starts giving from the heart out of love.

I spent our first three years here unemployed for the first time in my adult life. I remember standing in the house the Monday after we moved, my mother-in-law gone back to Florida, my husband off to work, surrounded by stacks of boxes, custodian of three dogs, and an ancient cat, wondering what in the world I was going to make of my life. I knew no one, my children were out of the nest, we were without a church for the first time in 20 years and I felt alone and adrift.

As I unpacked the boxes and settled the house, my life began to assume a different rhythm, and I began to enjoy the simple pleasures of keeping up the home with which I was blessed. I had time to take a walk, to think, to have a hot dinner on the table for my husband when he arrived at the end of a trying day. I discovered that I could, indeed, make a loving and prayerful offering of the chores that had for so long seemed an inconvenience.

Instead of a trial, they were now the fabric of my life, and by letting go, I discovered just how beautiful humble and loving service really is. And I discovered--when I had all the time in the world to do them--that the world would not come to an abrupt halt if I left the dishes in the sink after a pleasant evening with friends or with my husband. A bit late, I suppose, but there you have it.

So I love Martha, because she did it all before I did and she continues to show me the way. It’s one of my pet peeves that she’s so often portrayed as unrelentingly dour and complaining. Granted, she did point out to Christ that the dishes were staking up in the sink---but her story didn’t stop there. She also took charge of the house when her brother died and her sister was apparently too distraught to be of much use. Ever active, she didn’t wait for Christ to arrive, she sent for Him and went to meet Him and she greeted him with honesty and a declaration of faith as sound as any in the Gospel. He was a familiar and honored guest in her house, and she served Him again and again, in the only way she knew how, in action and in chores. In the mundane things of life.

It’s not a bad story, all told. Would that I learn the lessons Martha did as well as she did. Would that I could have her faith. With her intercession, as I learn to live my service in His, perhaps I will.


  1. I was working in NYC for 2 months this year, and attended mass weekly at St Anthony's. Home is
    the perfect word to describe it, I felt I was renewing my faith everytime I went there.
    I wonder if this blogger went up to the choir
    loft where there is a statue of the Trinity,
    very rare to see apparently. Is a lovely church and I miss it.

  2. I feel so sorry for those kids who don't have the experience of a mother & father in their respective roles; it seems as if this scenerio will continue to decline :-(