A Mary and Martha Dilemma

mary and martha dilemma

photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc
frame and text: Shelly Tiffin

I’m a Martha

I don’t know about you, but I am doer. I live by lists and feel loved when someone crosses something off that list for me.

So every time I hear the story of Mary and Martha out of Luke 10, I feel guilty for being more like Martha than Mary.

The story has always challenged me in a good way though to love people first and let the work wait. I make such a point of remembering this story that when I have gatherings I refuse to do dishes or clean up while people are still in my home.

The inner struggle with Mary vs Martha came up again this past week in San Diego. I was asked to chaperone our junior high mission trip, and my crew and I were assigned to the Ronald McDonald house on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Dilemma

On Wednesday when we arrived, I met with our point person Cathy, who after assigning roles, informed me that she would be leaving at noon (the time we started serving lunch) and that Casey would be helping us.

My crew happened to be there serving both days with a crew made up of students from other churches. Their leader was kind and polite, but from the very beginning I could tell she wasn’t going to be a big help.

As lunch approached, Cathy notified me that no one under eighteen could be in the kitchen. Then the other crew leader notified me that she was sick. And, shortly after Casey arrived to fill in for Cathy, she informed me that she had a meeting at 12:30 and she’d be leaving too.

Lunch ran until 1:30.

That left me to run a kitchen and manage ten junior high/high school students. Let’s just say I crashed that evening after serving lunch to over 200 people.

The frustration I felt was not in the work to be done, but in seeing the other crew leader walking around and talking with the people there. I so desperately wanted for the youth with me and myself to be able to do that. I’m not exaggerating, however, when I say that if I had stopped, lunch would not have been served.

As I reflected on the day, looking for what I could have done better, I didn’t see anything that I could change for Thursday, not even my attitude. Sure I was tired and frustrated with the situation, but I was glad to serve and did so with a happy heart. In fact, I was so stumped by the situation I had no clue what God was trying to show me.

I kept telling myself that sometimes love just does, sometimes love has no words.

But I felt like I was just making excuses.

This Martha felt like she was battling against the Mary she couldn’t be, but had been told all her life she needed to be.

I went to bed locked in this battle.

Thursday we were back at the same Ronald McDonald house. Only this time, I was greeted by John.

His easy going personality had kids chopping and assembling pizzas all morning. So much so, that before lunch was even served, I had already had the opportunity to reach out and pray over someone.

She was grandmother that hadn’t showered in five days and felt guilty for leaving her grandchild’s hospital room to grab a soda.

Then as lunch began, I noticed that John was putting the pizzas in the oven already. I asked him if he needed anyone back there and his response was music to my ears, “Nope, I got it.”

As we were serving lunch, I met Maria. Her eyes looked heavy as students wrapped her lunches that she would take back to the hospital room. As we talked, Maria shared that her fourteen year old was in the hospital for high blood sugar. The main concern weighing on Maria though, was CPS. They’d been on her, after her, and if she couldn’t keep her daughter well, she was going to lose her daughter. I asked Maria if I could pray for her, and she was kind enough to let me. We both departed in tears.

John, in fact, did have it. Lunch ran so smoothly that the other leader and I let all the youth go outside and play with the many children who were on the playground. There had been very few children the day before.

After lunch was over, we all came in to clean up. I went to the back to start the dishes, but guess what? John had them done. As I came out of the kitchen, I noticed a gentleman was still sitting at one of the tables. He looked tired so that’s how I started.

“You look tired.”

“I am.”

“Do you mind if I ask what brings you here?”

“No, my six week old grandson has swelling on the brain. They found him dangling by his neck off the side of the bed. The doctors have promised there will be permanent brain damage.”

I just sat and listened. He too had concerns with CPS and one of his loved ones going to jail because of it. He shared stories of his service with the army. I learned about showers in Desert Storm and where he was on 9-11. After 20 minutes of sitting there with him while he finished his lunch, I asked him if I could pray for him and his grandson, Colton. He too, graciously allowed it.

As I got up, I said, “Thanks for the sharing with me and allowing me to pray for you.”

His reply, “Thanks for making the time.”

So, I went home reflecting the stark contrast in these two days of service. One day I was Martha. The next I was Mary. But I was only able to be Mary, because John was Martha.

I will tell you that I much preferred the blessing I received being Mary on Thursday to frustration with my Martha role on Wednesday.

BUT… I saw firsthand just how important both are. I also know that I would not have seen the blessing John was without the previous day’s experience.

Imagine that, Martha’s can be a blessing too.

I’m walking away from this experience with more appreciation for the Martha that I naturally am and with Tom’s words in mind to make the time to be Mary as often as possible.

The Bottom Line

Mary and Martha QuoteIt’s not Mary vs. Martha; it’s Mary and Martha. We must balance what love does for people with what love says when it sits at their feet. Tweet That


This doesn’t just apply to acts of service. It’s true in my role as wife, mother, sister, and friend as well.

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  • http://www.echoesofmyheart.com Katie Reid

    Shelly! How are you? I found your quote as I was doing book research and can’t tell you how much this article encouraged me in what I am writing. Thank you! Great thoughts. :-)

  • Kathy Schwanke

    I just hopped over here from the oneword365 gathering. :) I noticed this post title on the side, and having just taught through John MacArthur’s book Twelve Extraordinary Women, and posted on each chapter, I took time to read. I’m linking my post on Mary and Martha, thought you might enjoy it. It was a great study and I love diving deeper into the stories in scripture. Especially when they are as common to us as Mary and Martha. God bless your 2015!


    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I agree that attitude is everything. Your site is beautiful. God bless your 2015 as well.

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  • http://allthelittlepieces.com Amanda Uher

    “It’s not Mary vs. Martha; it’s Mary and Martha.” I pretty much want to go outside and scream that at the top of my lungs. I personally swing back and forth between the two – but you can bet that whichever role I’m in at the moment, I’m feeling guilty for not being more of the other. THANK YOU for writing this!

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! I really enjoyed getting to know you at the She Speaks.

  • https://plus.google.com/105907336667069902933 Kim S

    Shelly, your blog is beautiful!!!! I so enjoyed meeting you this weekend and look forward to keeping in touch. I love studying Mary and Martha. I’m certainly a Martha – more for how she gets ‘distracted’ with ‘doing’ but I agree it’s a balance to work on. Love, K

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      Thanks Kim! It was a privilege to meet you as well. I struggle so much with this tomorrow’s post talks about it as well. :)

  • http://sestockham.wordpress.com sharon43

    Shelley, you are truly God’s voice into the hearts of women.Thank you for your transparency as it moves God’s message into our hearts, not just our minds. I tend to be a Martha, but don’t object when my help isn’t needed. As the years pass, I’m becoming more a Mary than a Martha.

  • http://www.justtrixie.com Just Trixie

    This is a wonderful insight and compare/contrast in the age old Mary or Martha debate! I used to be a Martha consistently. I felt like it was my duty in our house growing up because my sibling didn’t appear to have any interest in helping. I let go of my Martha tendency a few years ago when I started struggling with depression and anxiety; but in so doing, the guilt of not being Martha piled up on top of the rest.

    It’s only been in the past few months that I have been delivered by God from the depression, and I have come out of it a Mary. I no longer feel guilty if there are some dirty dishes in the sink or an unmade bed when there is someone who needs my love or if I need to stop and just be in the presence of God. It’s emancipating! Thank you, though, for redeeming all the years when I may have “missed” something while I was busy being a martyr in the name of Martha. Have a great day.

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      I love your honesty. I sincerely thank you for sharing.

  • Robin

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this.

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      Thank you for sharing that!

  • http://inspiredbooksguide.com Mary Collins

    Interesting perspective and dilemma. I agree both are needed but when you are in the middle of a Martha moment it can sometimes be difficult to feel you are being blessed. Thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts.

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      I’m so glad you shared. Sometimes we think we are the only ones that struggle with something. Obviously with this issue that’s not the case.

  • Lynn Mosher

    Oh, Shelly, this was beautiful! I loved reading your take, and your experience, on the Mary-Martha topic. Yes, one can be both. And without the Marthas serving, how can the Marys serve? Lovely!

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      Thank you so much!

  • Paula Winchester Hisel

    This is absolutely fantastic!! I too struggle with finding the balance between the two and often find myself burnt out because I tend more towards the Martha approach. But what a great challenge and reminder to have open eyes and an open heart about the blessing that both sides can bring.

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      I hadn’t even thought of the burnout, but taking the Mary moments more would definitely help refuel us for our Martha ones. They’d help us to see the purpose, or at least that’s how I see it. :)

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      I had not thought about the burn out issue, but taking as many Mary moments as we can will definitely give purpose and meaning to the Martha ones (at least for me anyways).:) Thanks for sharing!

  • http://ayearinthespirituallife.blogspot.com/ Dayna Renee Hackett Bickham

    Your tweetable sums it all up. Very good stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Praying for you and your family.

    • http://www.shellytiffin.com Shelly Tiffin

      Thanks so much Dayna and I’m continuing to pray for you and your family.