Mary vs Martha

by Susan Miller       April 4, 2016

38 In the course of their journey he came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord's feet and listened to him speaking. 40 Now Martha, who was distracted with all the serving, came to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.' 41 But the Lord answered, 'Martha, Martha,' he said, 'you worry and fret about so many things, 42 and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her.' (Luke 10:38-42 NAB)

Monday morning. Dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, beds need to be made, floors need to be cleaned, school needs to be done, I have a work meeting. No, I can’t play now. No, I can’t get everyone ready for Mass. No, I can’t spend time with you, can’t listen to you. “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things. [Choose] the better part.”

Yes, the dishes need to be done, but they can wait 5 minutes so I can listen to you, my child. Yes, we should start off the day with Mass, or at least prayer if it isn’t possible to attend Mass. Yes, I can take time out to play and pray. And yes, I still have to keep up the house, but I don’t have to do it all at once or do it alone. We can all play and pray together, and we can all tidy and clean together.

Mary vs Martha. Where is the line? If I become hyper focused on the household chores, I’m not present to God and my family. If I spend all my time in contemplative prayer, I’m ignoring the kids and not keeping up with the house. If I spend all my time with my family, the household chores are neglected, as is God (and whatever the memes say, the housework won’t wait forever since I don’t have a magical button to push that will clean the house for me). Where can I find balance?!

I keep going back to that passage, and I realise Jesus wasn’t telling Martha to never do housework, but to be mindful of that one moment. In that moment, the important thing was to be present with Jesus. She wouldn’t have been able to be present with Jesus had she ignored all household tasks earlier that day or the day before, as she wouldn’t have had food to offer or a room tidy enough to entertain a guest. But if she continued focusing on the minutia in the house once Jesus arrived, she wouldn’t enjoy His company.

Just so, at home, I need to keep up with the household chores, but I need to be mindful of when my kids need me. I can make my housework a time of prayer, and can listen. I can remember that my house is my own domestic monastery, with the cries of children, not the bells of the abbey, calling me to prayer and work. I can learn that it isn’t Mary against Martha, but with Martha. Most importantly, I don’t have to be superwoman and get everything done perfectly, with everything spotless. When the choice is between something that isn’t imperative to do right then and being present with God and my family, God and family win.


Susan Miller


Susan grew up Southern Baptist before entering the Catholic Church as an adult. She earned her BA in Archaeology, and then taught third grade in the inner city before receiving a Master's in Egyptology. At that time she felt called in a different direction and elected to be a stay-at-home mum whilst also teaching the Billings Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning in her spare time. Now Susan enjoys reading, knitting, video games, theological discussion, and homeschooling. She lives in Florida with her husband, Bart, and four children.

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