More Than Money
The Martha Complex
By Marie Drakulic
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman
named Martha welcomed him into her house.” (Luke 10:38).
Martha is one woman I certainly can relate to in the Bible. That’s because I have a “Martha Complex.” She was a detail-oriented people pleaser. Yeah, I can relate to that. She was a worrier. Check. She was overwhelmed and unglued. Double check. She was confused and hurt. Been there. Her emotions often led her words and actions. Can I get an amen? She was a spiritually hungry seeker of wisdom. That’s me.
I have read a growing library of books on the topic: Hands Free Mama (Stafford), Worn Out Woman (Stephens & Gray), The Best Yes (TerKeurst), Taming the To-Do List (Whitwer), Saying Goodbye to Survival Mode (Paine) and my personal favorite, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Weaver). I liked that last one so much, I have read it multiple times and threw in the sequel: Having a Mary Spirit.
The Bible doesn’t share much about the life of Martha, and you will probably find that commentators and authors differ in their opinions regarding her, but this is what I get from her story (and mine):
She was a detail-oriented people pleaser (Luke 10:40-41). Every time I read verse 40, I think of the big dinners we occasionally enjoy after Sunday morning church services. If you have been part of a church for any length of time, you know church people like to fellowship around food (a biblical concept, after all). A great deal of preparation goes into making these meals just right, and I’m in the “just right” business.
I want to make sure that plenty of food is ready to go when hungry people arrive. I even think certain people should go first in the line. Here’s the problem, I also want to be the one sitting at the feet of Jesus soaking in every word. And I tend to get frustrated when people don’t take their turns at helping, or when things don’t run as smoothly as I think they should.
Truthfully, I can be like this at home, too. Ephesians 6:7 reminds us, “With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Like Martha welcoming them into her home, I start out well, but somewhere in the middle, I forget that my acts of service are not for people, but for Him, and He isn’t concerned with the “just right,” but with my heart being right (see Psalm 19:14).
She was anxious, overwhelmed, and unglued (Luke 10:40-41, John 11). The Bible says Martha was worried when Jesus and His disciples came to her house. Can you imagine what it was like serving all those hungry travelers and the visitors who had come to listen to the Teacher? You know she was overwhelmed!
Some days, I wake up feeling that way. Before the day even begins, anxiety weighs heavy on my heart, and overwhelming fear whispers, “How will I make it through another day?” I know Scriptures tell me, “be careful (anxious) for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) and to “cast your cares upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7), but when your responsibility is to take care of others with big needs, you worry about having enough strength to do it all. You fear letting them down. Sometimes, those fears threaten to drown out the truth of God’s Word.
Martha didn’t just care for the needs of her friends; she probably spent a great deal of time caring for the needs of her family when her brother became deathly ill. Maybe Martha felt like she had to hold it all together all the time. Doing it on your own is a sure-fire way to set the stage for unglued moments. And, that’s exactly what Martha had—an unglued moment. Right in the middle of the lesson, Martha shouted, “Jesus don’t you care? Tell Mary to get in here and help me!” (Okay, maybe those weren’t her exact words, but that’s how I would have said it.) Jesus knew Martha was coming unraveled. I can imagine Him putting His hands on her shoulders, looking deep into her eyes, and saying, “Martha, Martha.” In a moment, He changed her perspective.
That’s exactly what I need sometimes—someone to stop the merry-go-round, look me in the eye, and give me a new perspective. Someone told me the other day that I am the glue that holds our family together. Well, this glue feels a little wacky, more like Krazy GlueTM if you ask me. The reality is that I am too weak to face another day as a caretaker, and when I focus on my weakness, I come unglued. Second Corinthians 12:9-10 changes my perspective, however: “My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities…for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
She was led by emotions (Luke 10:40, John 11:20). Proverbs 4:23 warns, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Not only should we be careful about what we allow into our hearts (to take root and dwell there), but also what we allow to come out of our hearts in word and action. God made us emotional, relational people. Jesus Himself displayed a wide array of emotions in a variety of circumstances and interactions with others. It’s when out-of-control emotions lead to out-of-control words and actions that we find ourselves in trouble. We must learn to filter hurt, frustration, and anger through the truth of God’s Word and rein them in with the help of the Holy Spirit.*
She was hurt and confused (John 11:1-44). God doesn’t always work in ways that make sense from a human perspective. That’s why Isaiah wrote, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). I don’t know that knowing this has made the tough spots in my life any easier. I don’t think it did for Martha, either.
How do you reconcile the knowledge that Jesus loves you (verse 5) and has the power to perform miracles (verse 37), but chose to let your loved one die? Martha was confused. Why did Jesus let this happen? Can you imagine her utter bewilderment when He asked for the stone to be rolled away from the tomb? It is true that God works in mysterious ways. I wonder if things got less confusing for Martha when she saw her brother rise from the dead. But God doesn’t always perform miracles and take away the problems, and life doesn’t always end with a happy-ever-after. Life often doesn’t make sense. Many times we are confused, but it is belief despite confusion that matters.
When Jesus encountered Martha this time, she was understandably upset. Still, in the face of grief and confusion, she proclaimed, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (verse 27). Even when we don’t understand, God is good. His character is not determined by our circumstances.
She was a spiritually-hungry seeker (Luke 10:42; John 11:20-27; John 12:1-2). One thing I love about Martha was her brutal honesty with the Lord. She wasn’t afraid to ask tough questions. Her timing was not always appropriate, but I love that she didn’t hesitate to talk to Jesus like a friend. She was real about her struggles. I think we should all be like that. Sometimes, when I write or speak, I wonder if I sound as though I have it all figured out, that my life is in perfect order. I don’t, and it’s not.
Paul said in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).
Writing is more than a passion for me; it is therapy. Some days, I write to collect my thoughts and gain perspective (when I really want to spew and sputter). Other days, like today, I write from a small break in the storm, a moment of peace and reflection. Regardless of the timing, I want my writing to reflect my hunger for the Lord and His truth, and to share the areas where God has revealed Himself. I want others to recognize their own spiritual hunger, their soul-deep need for Jesus.
Obviously, hospitality was a passion for Martha. A few short days before Jesus was to be crucified, we find her serving again. But this time, perhaps, her heart had changed and she served not to please others, but to give them an opportunity to get to know Him as she did.
This isn’t the first time I have written about my Martha-like struggles, and it probably won’t be the last. I know my type-A personality leads me toward busyness and burnout. I often return to the words of Isaiah 30:15: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength…” Sadly, the verse goes on to say, “…and ye would not.” This is a difficult lesson I am still learning.
Yes, God’s grace is sufficient. Yes, His power is made perfect in my weaknesses. But I have to let Him. He won’t force His help on me. Sometimes, I have to say no when I want (or feel obligated) to say yes. Sometimes, I need to ask for help (oh, that’s a tough one). Some (most) days, things won’t be just right. But “therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you,” (Isaiah 30:18), and I don’t want to miss that. I don’t want to be so worried and bothered like Martha that I miss the good part—the only thing that is really necessary (Luke 10:42).
About the Writer: Marie Drakulic and her husband Tony are team members with Darryl Grimes,
planting Flagship FWB Church in Erie, Pennsylvania: www.flagshipchurch.com.