Martha Syndrome, Guest Post by Shanna Briggs
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-41
I remember reading the scripture about Martha and Mary for the very first time. As I think back to my 15 year old self, sitting on my bed and reading this scripture I thought, “Jesus, why are you all up in her grill?” (Remember I was 15.) Why Jesus scolded Martha was just beyond me. I mean, isn’t it a good thing that she wanted her house to look nice for Him? Isn’t that something you do? He is more important than anyone on the face of the earth, and she wants to have everything look nice for Him. I would think He would feel flattered or something. But instead she gets chastised. I mean, Martha seems cool. Like, I think we could be friends cool.
Am I missing something here? The chapter ends and there is no more on the subject, so I decided that the scripture wasn’t very important. After all, it is only 5 verses.
Over the years I began to understand that Martha’s focus was on all the wrong things. Not very long ago I found myself again reading these scriptures on my bed. This time I saw something I had never seen before. Martha actually walks up to Jesus and says, “Tell her to help me!” There is even an exclamation point at the end of that sentence! This chick walks up to the creator of the universe, God in the flesh and starts telling Him what to do. Who does she think she is!? As I read this my jaw dropped, and in my disgust I said out loud, “Who does that!?” God replied, “You do that Shanna.”
My heart sank and I went into defense mode with Jesus. I started to tell Him that I absolutely 100% don’t do that. Anyone notice I started to “tell” Him? As I reflected God began to show me how my prayer life was no longer prayer but just a to-do list for Him. I began to see how I wasn’t letting God do His job. Not only was I trying to tell Him how to do it but trying to do it for Him. I had what I like to call “Martha Syndrome.”
What are the symptoms you might ask? Constant worrying and a never ending need for control. I wanted to do everything myself because it was easier than having to teach someone else. If I saw someone doing something differently than I do, I felt compelled to correct them and teach them the “right way.” I couldn’t leave a conversation without wondering what others thought of me or how I could have said things better. My to-do list and fears kept me up late at night because I couldn’t make my mind stop. They also made me dread getting out of bed in the morning to face my day.
Martha Syndrome is a silent killer of joy. How do I get rid of this virus in my life? The good news is that there is an antidote. The bad news is I didn’t learn what it was until much later, until I found myself in a situation where I was completely out of control.
I got a call from my mother in the middle of the night telling me that my 13 year old sister was dying. The 12 year age gap between us had always made me feel so protective of her and a little like she was my own baby. I was half way across the country and completely helpless. My baby girl is sitting in a hospital. All we know is that it’s bad and the doctors don’t know is what’s wrong.
Up to that point in my life when I had faced challenging situations I always felt like there was something I could do, no matter how small. I sat for hours and looked the situation up, down, backward and forward. For the life of me I could not come up with a single thing that I could do to fix it. I was completely and utterly helpless. The only option I had was get on my knees and pray. Over the next year there would be many terrifying moments where my sister’s life was held in the balance and each time I was reminded that I was without question completely out of control. There was nothing I could do except beg the only one who had any control and hope He would hear my cries for help.
I can tell you in those moments I did not approach Jesus with any pride or arrogance. I did not go to Him about my sister with brash overconfidence. I ran to the feet of Jesus as a humble beggar desperate that he would hear my pleas and give me any scrap of hope to cling onto. I knew that he owed me nothing. In those moments it became clear how truly great He is and how lowly and insignificant I am.
One day as I was reading scripture I came across 1 Thessalonians 5:17. It says, “Pray without ceasing.” Now this scripture had always eluded me. A long time ago I had decided that this scripture was for the really spiritual who had somehow arrived and become these super Christians that prayed all day every day. But I had been a Christian now for more than 10 years, I worked at a church; when would I arrive? I called out to God and I said, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray without ceasing, that’s impossible. Why would you put such unrealistic expectations on me? His response to me was simple, “You know how to worry without ceasing.”
Ouch. God had just hit me right over the head. Was it really as simple as that? Exchange my worry for prayer. It always sounded so hard but when I thought about it this way it didn’t seem so impossible. Don’t get me wrong, I still worry. But now when I catch myself I try to turn that worry into a prayer. Sometimes I have to say the same prayer 50 times in one day.
It’s funny how prayer makes you focus on the positive. How worry makes you dwell on the worst possible outcome and how prayer shifts your focus to the best. Do you too find yourself infected with this nasty virus? Do you worry without ceasing? If so I encourage you to exchange your worry for prayer. As you do I know God will begin to bring back a little lost joy to your life.
Administrative Assistant to Pastor Sam Mata, Men’s Ministry
Shoreline Toastmasters Club President