One of the movies I grew up on is called “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”. I know my sisters and I got hooked on kind of random things, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you have never heard of it. It’s a story about a girl named Sonora Webster who has lots of...let’s say spunk…that she needs as she battles through obstacles in her path for the life she wants. On more than one occasion, she is head-to-head with someone when she decides to, very literally, hold her position. We see her wrap her feet around the legs of her chair, curl her fingers around the sides of the seat, and tense her muscles, literally preventing anyone from removing her from the chair. She doesn’t kick and flail and scream, but she stubbornly defies their insistence that she budge. She simply will not.
These days, when I play the movie in my mind of the story of Mary and Martha, I see it differently than I used to. I used to imagine Martha as this bustling, overstressed busybody who didn’t understand that she just needed to chill. And Mary is sitting there at Jesus’ feet, serenely hanging on his every word - an obvious example of how to spend time with the Lord. I think I was wrong.
We have all heard of another Martha (Stewart) who has devoted herself to defining the image of a perfect life, providing the needed information to master cooking, decorating, throwing parties, feeding pets home-cooked meals, and plenty more. This results in us "normal" folk seeing ourselves far from an impossibly polished standard, wishing we could measure up in at least one area, assuming that we have shortchanged our loved ones by never succeeding in those finishing touches that make life memorable.
Don’t get me wrong - I love cooking and tweaking and perfecting recipes. I don’t mind the cost, time, effort or cleanup involved in such a project. I do mind being interrupted, distracted, and generally annoyed during it and often find myself snippy with my kids simply because they are asking something of me when I would rather give my full attention to the goodies I am preparing. Basically, I berate them for not appreciating the effort I am putting into this treat that will fill their hearts with joy, completely missing the fact that I could offer them that joy if I would just put down my agenda. My kind words communicate their worth much better than delicious snacks or pristine rooms or fabulous crafts or thrifty-yet-fashionable clothing options. Anything that requires so much time, energy and attention that I don't have enough to love my family well - it's too much.
During the holiday season, we add the pressure to not only buy the perfect gifts for everyone we know but somehow surprise them with it because we read their mind to discover their hidden desire that they had never voiced because we just know and love them that much, and bonus if it’s beautifully wrapped with personalized ornaments as the gift tag tied onto the bow that can be reused as a wreath hanger if you just undo a wire hanger and slide it into the pocket you sewed in the ribbon and...you get the idea - it’s too much.
So, I have determined that, in the face of an impossibly high and pointless standard, I’m going to take my cue from Sonora and Mary and stay in my chair, even if it means I’m gripping it with white knuckles. Because here’s the thing: I want to choose something better and I cannot let it be taken away from me. I’ll keep preaching it at myself every time I think that stressing over ANYTHING superficial is worth robbing ANYONE of the best I can give them. If we never get around to putting up the tree and I skip right over the cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning and I have no time to wrap gifts, but stash them under a blanket in the middle of the floor and I put off scheduling Skype dates until it’s too late and generally let the “normal” Christmas festivities go by the wayside, I might feel like I broke the season. But I will force myself, with each decision, to consider the cost of taking any good thing one step further, to prevent passing the point where I have enough energy and focus left to spend on loving the people in my life directly instead of impressing them with all the sparkle of the holidays but a wrung-out me. We can dance in the kitchen to Christmas music and laugh together and drink our hot chocolate out of our everyday mugs and be just fine. I need to have enough left to look them in the eyes with a real smile and kind words to give. I have to remember that.
Because both Marthas would have concerned themselves with what went on the table, but Mary chose to remember Who was at it, which Jesus said was better. As we celebrate His birth, let’s remember that He said that.