Five o’clock in the evening is a terrible time for my husband to get home from work. By then, dinner is already going to be late and I have used up all my compassion for the day. I am longing for quiet and order, but bedtime for the children is still hours away and every toy they have ever owned is strewn all over the living room.
“Hi, Baby!” Jeff says when he walks in the door. I give him a kiss before he is attacked by children.
Jeff whacks the kids and they whack him back and pretty soon a full-on pillow fight erupts just a few feet away from where I am trying not to burn dinner. “Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad!” They all shout at once. Everyone wants to touch him and talk to him and wrestle him.
It is complete chaos, and even though I have had more than enough chaos for one day, I can’t help but feel a little jealous. Dinner is late, and I haven’t even thought of a vegetable to serve. There are so many school books on the table, I don’t know where we’re going to sit, and it’s all such a mess, I can’t think of where to start.
I look over, and there is my husband, flat out on the floor while the kids trample all over him, and I’m left to do all the work. I wish I had time to play. Why can’t he see I’m drowning over here? Can’t he play later, after I am all caught up and things are back in order? Doesn’t he care about me?
“Can you not use my good pillows for ammo?” I shout over the din. They all look up. “You know, I am trying to make dinner over here and it’s really hard with all the noise.”
“It has to be quiet to make dinner?” Jeff asks, which is not a very smart move on his part.
“Yes, it does. And you’re not helping.” I look at him accusingly.
“Sorry about that. We can try to keep it down.” He hits Jonathan in the face with a couch cushion.
“Or maybe you can help. Did you notice the table’s not set? And I haven’t even started making the salad? Dinner is going to be really, really late unless I get some help.”
I thought, perhaps, that this would be a good time for him to feel sorry for me.
“Well,” he says in a voice that does not sound at all apologetic, “I haven’t seen the kids all day, and I think it’s more important that we spend time together, even if dinner is a little late. It sounds like you’re getting all worked up about things that don’t really matter.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” I am insulted, really. Eating is important. Eating together as a family is important. Everyone knows that.
“I mean, it’s okay if dinner is late because I’m spending time with the kids. Dinner is just small stuff. This is what matters.”
“Yeah, Mom! We don’t mind if dinner is late! Let’s get Daddy!” Faith shouts, and a roar goes up from the crowd. I can no longer see Jeff because he is crawling with children.
I stand in the kitchen watching them, wanting to join in but feeling so pulled by all the little responsibilities that loom so large at the moment. I can’t really enjoy them when there’s so much to do. I sigh, and I can almost hear a voice saying to me, “Martha, Martha.”
Martha was a woman who knew a little bit about responsibility. She was a friend of Jesus, and when she heard he was going to be in town, she planned a stunning meal. Everything was going to be perfect.
But on this particular day, Jesus showed up a little too early. He was already sitting on the couch, waiting, but the bread wasn’t done rising and the stew hadn’t simmered nearly long enough. Martha had flour all over her dress and her hair was a sight. Nothing was going according to plan, and Martha felt frustrated and irritable.
Then she realized she hadn’t seen her sister for a while. Where was Mary? Why wasn’t she helping? There was so much to be done if they were going to pull this thing off. Martha came out to the sitting room and gasped. Mary was sitting there, just sitting there by Jesus when there was still so much to do. Never had she felt so unappreciated, so used.
Anger rose up in her heart. She looked at her sister, her lazy, selfish sister sitting there with their house guest, chatting like dinner was just going to make itself. And Jesus! He was smiling at Mary like he didn’t know Martha was doing all the work.
But he did know. He could see Martha in the kitchen, cutting up figs and washing the grapes. He could tell the wine hadn’t been poured and no one had set the table. Martha will take care of it, he probably thought. Martha always takes care of it. Her hands shook.
“Don’t you care?” Martha sputtered when Jesus looked up. “Does it even bother you that I have to prepare this whole meal by myself?” She waited, but Jesus didn’t say anything, which only made her angrier. “Tell my sister to come in here and help me!”
She had never spoken to him like that. No one ever spoke to him like that. Some of the men who traveled with Jesus exchanged uneasy glances. When a woman talked like that, they knew it was time to go outside and chop something.
Martha waited. She put her shaking hands on her hips and tried to keep the hot tears from coming. They’d apologize and she’d be gracious and forgiving and everyone would be exceedingly nice to her for the rest of the day, just in case.
“Martha,” Jesus said. His voice was sad, but also strangely stern. “Martha.” The way he said her name made her hands shake even harder, and she suddenly felt very small. “Look at you. You’ve got yourself all worked up about things that don’t matter.”
What do you mean they don’t matter? I’m doing all of this for you, Jesus! Don’t you see?
“There’s only one thing here that matters, and Mary has found it.”
Martha blinked. She looked at Mary, sitting at Jesus’s feet like she could not bear to be anywhere else but near him. But how could it be that Mary loved him better? Martha was the one who loved Jesus. She was the one who had done all these things for him, who had practically killed herself to make a meal that would please him. Mary couldn’t even be bothered to set the table.
Jesus watched her but didn’t say anything. He was good at not saying anything. In fact, his silence filled the whole room like he was shouting.
“I wanted it to be so perfect…for you,” she managed, by way of explanation.
Jesus raised an eyebrow, but he didn’t say, “Really, Martha? You think this is all for me?” He didn’t have to say it. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, she knew. It had never been for him.
She was doing it all for her.
What she wanted more than anything was to hear him say, “My, Martha, you are quite the housekeeper! And these cookies are just heavenly. Trust me, I should know.” She thought perhaps Andrew might turn to John and say, “Now that’s a good woman.” And maybe, just maybe, Jesus would ask for a second helping and praise her in front of all those people, and a little bit of that glory he kept for himself might be hers. They would all know she was something if Jesus said so.
But there was Mary, getting all the attention because she was giving all the attention to Jesus. And Martha realized she had missed the point again. “What Mary has found can never be taken away,” Jesus said.
His words cut deep, and Martha felt the tears she had been holding back. He was right. Mary had done the better thing.
I feel like Martha as I stand in the kitchen, watching the wrestling match. I realize Jeff is right, too. In my effort to be a good wife and mother, I had missed the point. I had allowed myself to get all caught up in the trivial things that don’t really matter, that don’t really last, because they made me feel better about me.
What I really want is for Jeff think, “Wow, I’m one lucky guy. My wife is really something.” So I chase around after things I think will cause him to adore me instead of adoring him first. I do everything I can to make him love me, except for truly loving him. “Kristen, Kristen. You have missed the one thing.”
“You’re right,” I admit out loud, partly to Jeff and partly to myself.
Jeff smiles up at me with the smile that made me fall in love with him. “I know,” he says.
I aim a pillow right at his head and decide that dinner is going to be very, very late. Something much more important just came up.