Listening has never been my strong suit.
On the contrary, talking is second nature to me, as evidenced by a letter my mom wrote to my grandmother when I was about 4.
She wrote, “Susan is the loudest little girl, she runs all around the house just talking and yelling.” “I think she just loves the sound of her own voice!”
Ouch, mom. * Eyes rolling with head lowered in embarrassment.
Sadly, not much has changed. Anyone that knows me, knows that I like to talk. A lot.
It’s just how I process. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a difficult place to be when listening is a far better, less selfish skill to have.
Thankfully, in the Bible, I find myself in good company, although, it’s not the ones with outstanding character qualities and endless amounts of faith that I relate to.
Usually, it’s the misfits.
How to Talk to God
The listener and the talker
If you’ve heard anything about Mary and Martha from Bethany, I’m going to bet it’s been praise for Mary and a steady shaking of the index finger at Martha for being consumed with busyness.
When we stumble upon Mary and Martha in the book of Luke, we see Mary seated and listening and Martha serving.
“…She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all the preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me…” Luke 10:38-42
“The Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part..” Luke 10:41-42 NASB
Oh, that Martha… Complaining, fretting…
I’ve always had a soft spot for this poor girl who was busy serving and looking for help. Instead of validation, she was reprimanded and then used as an example for the next 2,000 years of how not to do life.
I’m thinking this wasn’t her ultimate goal.
Yes, Martha was serving, she was fretting. But do you know what else she was doing while Mary was sitting?
She was talking…To Jesus.
The message I have always heard about these two sisters was this, be like Mary, don’t be like Martha. End.Of.Story.
Because I have a penchant for the underdog or possibly because I feel like maybe she got a bad wrap, I started paying a little more attention to Martha than Mary.
And wouldn’t you know it? My perspective changed a bit. I felt like I was standing on the other side of the room getting an entirely different view of Martha as a person.
What has resonated the most with me is that she came to Jesus with this assumed grievance without fear or hesitation. She clearly was used to talking with Him and felt comfortable doing it. You’ll also notice, Jesus listened and was genuinely concerned with how anxious she was.
I became aware of how Martha was speaking to Jesus rather than how wrong she was. I began checking all of the other places in scripture where Martha was mentioned and sure enough, you guessed it.
She was talking.
“..a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.. Luke 10:38
Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. John 11:21
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” John 11:24
Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” John 11:39
Carrying our burdens to Him
Over in the 11th chapter of John, we find the siblings again. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, had died and was buried. They were grieving and upon hearing Jesus was coming, Martha went to meet Him and Mary stayed back. (literally translated “was sitting.”)
I don’t know why Mary stayed back but I love that Martha went. Even in their grief, we see their personalities.
Mary sat quietly.
Martha grieved and processed in the only way she knew how,
She talked… she went.
She meets her Lord on the road, eyes, red with pain from weeping hot tears, brow furrowed at the seriousness of her words as she looks up into His eyes and speaks.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.” John 11:21, 22 NASB
Jesus states that He is the resurrection and the life and asks her if she believes this.
“She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” John 11:27 NASB
This statement of faith is beautiful. Martha proclaims God’s victory while choking back tears at the very present loss of her brother. It’s incredible to me that she was brutally honest with Him, both in her confession of faith and in her expectation of Him. She carried her burden of grief and disappointment and in the same breath confessed Jesus as the Messiah.
None of us are “less than”
Some of us naturally talk more than others and I’ve finally decided that maybe it’s not a bad thing after all.
Of course, I’m certainly not advocating to go around saying whatever you want, there is discretion. But, what if sometimes we can be a voice for those who can’t find theirs?
I have felt “less than” because I am innately a talker. I wonder if Martha ever felt this way.
I’m thankful for her, this woman who walked alongside Jesus thousands of years ago and welcomed Him into her home. I am thankful for her words to our savior and the example she set for how easily we can speak to Him.
I have a new perspective on the whole Mary/Martha paradigm.
Mostly because of this;
“Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5
Just to clarify, what it doesn’t say:
“Jesus loved Mary and Lazarus and, oh boy, He sure would’ve loved Martha if she would’ve just shut her mouth every once in a while and sat at His feet.”
Nope. It says He loved Martha.
He loved them all. Equally.
Warts and all.
Talker. Listener. Sick
There is value in our talking.
We as Christians have raised Mary to this place of superiority because she was a listener. Jesus praised Mary but didn’t tell Martha not to talk to Him about her concerns.
By putting the sole focus on Mary’s listening, maybe we’ve missed the beauty of Martha’s brazen confidence to speak to her Lord.
I believe we can learn just as much from how Martha spoke to Jesus as we can from Mary’s actions.
Talk to Jesus
Martha brought her concerns and carried her burdens to the One that could correct her thinking, and in exchange, Jesus engaged in conversation with her. He listened to her, even when she may not have been in the right.
It’s not our job to pretty up what we bring to Him. We’re just supposed to bring it.
He can do the prettying up thing all by Himself.
Even though I’m a talker, I’ve been afraid in the past to speak openly to Him. Like He didn’t already know about the bitterness, sadness, fear or jealousy I had in my heart.
We don’t need to be afraid to speak to Him, He already knows what we’re going to say anyway.
Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord you know it all. Psalm 139:4 NASB
Whatever crazy thing you’re thinking or feeling, just say it. He’s not going to shy away from your ugly, your mistakes, your missteps, and assumptions.
He listens and if needed, kindly speaks back, even if it’s with correction.
He did that for Martha and I believe it changed her.
I believe it will change us too.
So, I think I could have written this 😉. I am definitely the talker in my group and I do relate to Martha. I have always felt the need to defend her. This was great! Thanks for sharing.
Susan McIlmoil says
Jessica, I’m So glad you can relate! That’s exactly how I’ve always felt, “poor Martha!” It’s just so nice knowing there are more “talkers” out there and that we can all stick together! 🙂
Carrie Vandervort says
Wonderful thoughts. Interesting to me that you felt “less than” for talking more. I have felt “less than” for talking less! Whether it was our parents’ instructions or our own personalities to talk or not, what a wonderful reminder that we don’t have to pretty ourselves up to talk real with God. He just desires the conversation.
Susan McIlmoil says
Carrie, I’ve talked to several people who have said exactly what you have, they felt less than for talking too little. I think it is so interesting where our insecurities can take root and how they differ. I guess that’s why I love the story of Martha and Mary, they are clearly different, and that’s ok, God takes us for who we are. You are so right, He just wants us to talk with Him. I need reminders of this every day.
Lisa Appelo says
It’s healthy isn’t it to look at all the angles of what’s recorded for us in scripture. I’ve wondered what Martha did after Jesus spoke those words to her — did she stay? Did she go back to the kitchen? We’ll never know but we do know, as the verses in John show, that Jesus loved her. I’m forever grateful for Jesus’ secure love.
Susan McIlmoil says
Yes, Lisa, that’s what I have wondered too! It’s so interesting to look at the different points of view and to see there is more to the story than we originally thought. I am so thankful that Jesus loves us unconditionally.