Over the last few months, I was asked by the Relief Society Enrichment leader to participate in an experiment. The focus was on Mary, Martha, & Betty Sue (the forgotten sister who was too busy to get around to helping Martha or sitting with Mary). Each sister focused on just one of these scripture sisters and I was asked to focus on Mary. At the quarterly Enrichment activity, we “reported” on what we learned over the past months. Here’s my talk…
It was a cold, crisp Sunday in October, 2008. Even though the conference center will filled with 22,000 visitors, you could hear a pin drop when President Monson arose, walked to the podium and began his General Conference talk. He started with the words
“I begin by mentioning one of the most inevitable aspects of our lives here upon the earth, and that is change. At one time or another we’ve all heard some form of the familiar adage: “Nothing is as constant as change.”
Throughout our lives, we must deal with change. Some changes are welcome; some are not. There are changes in our lives which are sudden, such as the unexpected passing of a loved one, an unforeseen illness, the loss of a possession we treasure.
Within days, the mortgage crisis struck our country. And the stock market crashed. My grandmother passed away. And my husband lost his job.
While this noise was going on in my life, Mary asked me to participate in this experiment. I was surprised she asked me to focus on Mary, specifically what is it like to be a Mary-like person. Because I’m usually Martha. Or at least Martha-like. I think. I do. A boss once wrote on my performance review that I was THE model of operational efficiency, which meant I got the same amount of work done as the rest of his team combined (who were 10 men, BTW).
So I read the stories about how Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, were faithful followers of Jesus, and Jesus loved them very much.
One day while Jesus was visiting them, Martha was busy cleaning the house and preparing food. She wanted to be sure that Jesus was well cared for. Instead of helping Martha, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. The harder Martha worked, the more upset she became with Mary. Finally, Martha complained, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.”
Jesus understood Martha’s feelings, and He answered, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part.”
Jesus wanted Martha to know that it was important for her to serve others and that He appreciated all she had done for Him. But it was even more important to learn about God, have faith and to grow spiritually.
I know Martha. I can relate to Martha. Why Mary? What is it to be a Mary-like person? I must’ve asked myself that question at least a thousand times before the answer was revealed over the long, cold grey weeks of winter. I wrote down:
Mary is a dreamer. Martha runs things.
Mary is a Mac. Martha is a pc.
Mary would drive an SUV. Martha would drive a minivan.
Mary feels with her heart. Martha thinks with her head.
Mary is Facebook. Martha is Twitter.
President Uchtdorf also understood what it was like to be Martha. His talk “Happiness is your Heritage” that he delivered for the Relief Society Meeting was inspirational when I heard it back in October, just before everything in my world imploded. A couple of months later, I returned to find new counsel and wisdom in his words:
“We know that sometimes it can be difficult to keep our heads above water. In fact, in our world of change, challenges, and checklists, sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to avoid feeling overwhelmed by emotions of suffering and sorrow.
I am not suggesting that we can simply flip a switch and stop the negative feelings that distress us. This isn’t a pep talk or an attempt to encourage those sinking in quicksand to imagine instead they are relaxing on a beach. I recognize that in all of our lives there are real concerns. I know there are hearts here today that harbor deep sorrows. Others wrestle with fears that trouble the soul.”
But then – this is where I had the AHA! Moment about Mary. He goes onto say:
“I would like to speak about two principles that may help you find a path to peace, hope, and joy—even during times of trial and distress. I want to speak about God’s happiness and how each one of us can taste of it in spite of the burdens that beset us.”
President Uchdorf asks: what do you suppose is the greatest kind of happiness possible? It wasn’t so much the question as this notion of happiness that resonated for me. In the parable, Mary is happy. Martha is not. Mary is fulfilled. Martha is “encumbered with serving”. Mary is focused on the teachings and Martha seems to be distracted.
So in December, during what had to be one of the darkest moments, I prayed to understand what it was like to be Mary. And it was revealed to me that I have been Mary my whole life. When I was a little girl, I often observed rather than participated. My mother told me that I would spend days reading, writing stories and daydreaming. In high school, my friendships were scarce but meaningful. I was Mary in film school when I would spend hours, digging my toes in the sand, feeling the wind licking my face as I waited patiently for the sun to set over the Pacific ocean so I could capture ‘just the right shot’.
Since having my first child more than a decade ago, I seemed to have morphed into becoming Martha. Motherhood should have taught me to be more loving, more compassionate – more Mary-like, yet I feel like it taught me more about serving others first, more about time management and multi-tasking instead.
I resolved to become more Mary-like at the beginning of 2009, starting with my job. With my husband out of work, I couldn’t quit, but I did request a change in responsibilities. Now I find myself with many direct reports (again) meaning I spend less time focused on tasks and more time spent on the Mary-like qualities of compassion, teaching, learning and truly understanding human nature. I am also able to put Jesus Christ back at the center of my life rather than a series of never-ending to-do’s.
Although Mary and Martha are opposites, Christ was not comparing or chastising either one of them. He simply pointed out that each had chosen something different. Mary’s choice would have lasting value, but He also appreciated Martha’s service, even if it was selfishly motivated. I believe that is what I’ve been taught these last years – the principle of selfless service. I’ve learned to sacrifice my own dreams/wants/desires for the happiness of my family. I could be doing much more with my own career, yet I chose not to, which is impossible for many in my ambitious field to understand. Yet this is my true self, which is what, in essence, Mary was offering up to Jesus.
For the first time in years, my job is about creating something from nothing, which is what makes me happy. I had been burdened by all the ‘doing’, which left little time for creating. Signs that I was desperate to create were everywhere, yet so busy was I that I simply didn’t take notice. Now I have been placed in a position to use my creative “Mary-like” talents in order to serve others as well as my family. I am much happier than I ever thought possible, even though there is a lot of yuck to work through from the events of this past winter.
President Uchdorf teaches us:
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something…
Creation brings deep satisfaction. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty.
Now it is spring and I am listening to the birds chattering. I can smell the dewy earth. And I can see my three daughters – evidence of God and His work of creation through me. Which brings me back to where I began and our Heavenly Father began: Creation. Genesis, Change. Humanity.
I’d like to close with a short video clip called “Create” from the Relief Society web site about creation and happiness based on a talk given to the Relief Society General Conference by the oh-so-easy-on-the-eyes President Dieter Uchtdorf called “Happiness, Your Heritage”. It takes a little while to download, but it is well worth the wait!