I recently realized that while I have traveled a long way in terms of conquering my anxiety, I still felt under pressure to accomplish goals and meet ambitious expectations. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have been trying to live a Martha life with a Mary heart.
Okay, I know that you think I have totally lost it. Perhaps there is some type of dementia that accompanies dilated cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. The woman is so confused, she doesn’t know her own name and she thinks her heart is a person. How sad!
But really the answer has been under my nose all this time. It just took some Biblical research to reveal an answer. The lesson can be found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, verses 38 through 42:
So in the scriptures, Martha exhibits the temperament that I had for years. Very efficient, very goal oriented, always focused on completing tasks, and yes maybe just a bit (okay a lot) intense. Martha’s personality, as Jesus pointed out was very careful. In fact, in some versions, Christ comments about Martha and her attention to detail. (Nowadays, we might call that anal). Yep – that was me, and that disposition still raises her multi-tasking head and says to God – “Yo, dude, will you just help me to revert to form and work a little more, a little harder and maybe even a little more smarter?”
Despite the firmness of Christ’s advice in the scriptures, I do not interpret this scripture to be critical of the Martha in her serving mode. After all, we can’t always just sit and listen when there is work to be done. I saw a commentary on the United Church of God website that was titled “Profiles of Faith: Mary and Martha, Lessons from Two Sisters.” The commentary said: Nothing is wrong with being practical and efficient if it doesn’t interfere with the more important things in life. If it does, it can become a problem.
It became a problem for me a number of years ago, when my priority was spending more time in my office at work rather than finding events and opportunities to connect with my fellow humans. Of course, I interacted with people all of the time. But it was more as a matter of necessity to get the job done. The words “practical and efficient” in the UCC article fit me perfectly. But the thing that was missing from my life was the obligation not just to interact with people to get a job done. I needed to do the job of making sure that those I traveled with in this life, in whatever capacity, were treated with respect dignity and compassion. I needed to be more interested in them as humans and not just as helpers to get a job done.
You might be surprised to learn that I was studying the Bible throughout this time. But don’t misunderstand – I wasn’t reading the Bible as an attempt to “sit at the feet of Christ and listen”. When I studied his word during this time, it was just another task to be done: I would need to come up with prayers as an elder or to make presentations in whatever church role I added to my multi-tasking array. But did what I read in the Bible really sink in and improve my faith and responsibility to others?
Then lightning struck and caused me to revisit the work that I needed to be doing in the vineyard of the Lord. That lightning bolt was heart failure, and I became aware that more than my heart was failing. I was negligent in my duty to listen and learn more about my faith and display that faith to all humankind. In other words, when circumstances cause your role in life to change, there is merit in just sitting and listening at the feet of Christ. According to the article on the UCC website:
In my former life, I was in hyper speed mode for so long, that I may have forgotten the importance of why Christ was on this earth: To sacrifice his life for our sins and to give us the reassurance of eternal life. Now that I have faced the prospect of life ending sooner than I wish, I know the significance of the reassurance. It is what calms me and makes it possible for me to remain focused on finding more noble things to do in my life while I can. Sure, the work I did in a paid status was important, and I’d like to think that the mission of the agency I worked for was important. But in my absence, that work still gets done.
But what doesn’t always get done is listening to people, assessing what they really need, and trying to help them find a way to address those needs. This is my job, my career, my vocation today.
So today, I find myself paying a lot more attention to events happening around me, and I am mindful of people who are involved in the event and their demeanors. Do they look lost or confused? Is there something I can say that will be helpful? I think because I have been more mindful and more present in the moment, people are more inclined to ask me questions. Usually it is something very simple, like directions to the subway station, or how to get to the nearby grocery store. I always try to make sure I am smiling and pleasant when I answer – in other words I really put my heart into the answer (as weak as that darn heart might be!). My thought is that if the person is looking for more than just how to get to Whole Foods, well maybe the smile and the kind words will pick up his or her spirits and provide some incentive to find the glass half full.
In addition to listening, I have to be more watchful of my own conversation, and how I choose to inform friends, family, medical professionals, and even strangers of information they need to know. In the past, I found that sometimes I came on like gangbusters and scared people. Obviously this is not conducive to letting people know that faith will set them free – they just want to be free of you.
Other times, most especially when I first was diagnosed with heart failure, I decided to adopt the martyr syndrome and just suffer in silence. This was not a good coping strategy for me or loved ones. They felt disappointed and scared that I wasn’t keeping them in the loop. I thought it was best for them, even though I was very scared and wondered why God was not providing more guidance. Well, then one wise, younger friend said something that clicked. It had to do overall with the power of prayer, and that maybe if more people were praying for me, God would help them know how to handle my condition. The friend said to me: Melanie, if they don’t know what is going on with you how can they pray for you? This is such a wise statement from someone 25 years younger than me!
To sum it all up, we all have to weather transitions into the various seasons in our lives. I truly believe there is a time to be efficient and goal-oriented. But I also believe that it is not wise to emphasize those attributes to the exclusion of everything else or when the circumstances/seasons change. In my estimation, the quiet and undemanding sister, the one who listens with interest and learning, is probably the appropriate choice when the Lord shows up on your doorstep to communicate with you. And at this season in my life, my heart needs to lighten up and hear what the Lord is telling me rather than beating at a speed to keep up with my former self.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.