Are you a Mary or a Martha?

After picking my daughter up from preschool a few weeks ago, she immediately asked, “Where are we going today, mom?” I informed her we had no big plans that day and were just going home.

And then she said this: “Oh man. Home? It’s so messy. I hate being there.”

The Emergency Room doctor admitted he had never seen a knife stabbed so far into a mother’s heart before.

But seriously — Ouch. Every mother hopes her home is a place her children and husband want to be, not one they avoid.

So my house is not exactly spick and span. Ok, it’s not even in the same universe as spick and span. But I didn’t realize the mess was making our home an undesirable place to be. Something had to change and it had to be a bigger than just another goal to clean up every night or not let the dishes tower in the sink.

Then, I found part of my problem in a story I’ve heard since I was young: the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible. Basically, it goes like this: Jesus comes to visit. Martha is running around doing chores and making dinner while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen. Martha says, “Seriously? You’re not going to help me?” and Jesus tells her that Mary has made the better choice in listening to his words.

I’ve always interpreted that story as meaning people are more important than tasks. House work and cooking and cleaning should always come second to my friends and family. Essentially, I always prioritize having fun with my kids above keeping the house clean. If we have a choice between doing dishes and going to the park, we choose the park every time.

I thought I was making the right choices – the Mary choices.

But I think I missed the nuance in this important Bible story. I don’t think Jesus was trying to say that Martha was wrong for cleaning or cooking or whatever she was doing. He was saying it was the wrong time for those things.

It’s not about being less Martha and more Mary, it’s about being both Martha and Mary at the right moments.

So in the past few weeks I have been trying to balance my Martha and Mary sides. We clean up when we need to, and then we play. We still have fun, but we also make time for Saturday chores.

In doing so, amazing things have happened at my house. I discovered my children love window washing and we enjoy cleaning together. Somehow we found we had more time for fun when the house was cleaner. We are able to roll around on the floor when Daddy comes home because the floor is actually clean.

And the most important change is that there is a better spirit in our house. It’s a place I — and hopefully my children — are proud to call home.

I know that if Jesus came knocking on my door now, I would be able to sit and listen at his feet rather than clearing off a spot on the couch or trying to hide the dirty dishes.

How funny that becoming a little more like Martha has freed me up to be a lot more Mary.

Are you a Mary or a Martha by nature? How do you balance keeping an orderly house with having family fun?


  1. Danny Chipman

    Great post! I’ve always been a little more like Martha. It wasn’t until a few years ago during General Conference that I realized I needed to leave off cleaning up after our elaborate breakfast and go listen to the prophets of God. Since then I’ve been working on finding a balance between the daily mundane tasks and capturing fleeting, joyful moments with my family. I’m not perfect at it yet, but I’ve gotten a lot better, I think.

  2. Miranda

    This is fantastic. Every parent should read this. I think there definitely needs to be a balance. My husband’s mom was very Martha. So was his dad. While my husband still wants me to be a Martha at times, I would rather be a Mary. A happy balance is a happy family, right? Wow. Common sense! Thank you!

  3. Andrea

    Great insights…and in defense of all the Martha’s in the world, it’s true that the “Mary’s” are more able to do what they do when there is someone else (a Martha) taking care of the basic household chores, errands and meal preparation. I often find myself taking care of things and picking up a lot of the pieces in the lives of my family members in order that my husband and children have the support they need to accomplish their goals and work/school responsibilities. Keeping life organized and cohesive is to me what makes our family work. Not that I don’t give my kids responsibilities, but if I am more concerned about “fair” than I am about a Spirit of peace and joy in our home, there seems to be little of either.

  4. heavenbound

    Loving that you choose to go to the park instead of worrying about a spotless house is admirable! Time goes so fast that soon the time to play in the park is gone. Teaching children to work is also admirable. Finding a balance is a challenge. Remember Mary choose “the good part”, not the better part.

  5. Cat

    I find Mary moments while doing the Martha tasks. Last fall the potatoes from our garden needed to be dug up, but no one had time to do it. I found some time one afternoon (after working 8 hours at my for money job mind you) and started digging. For whatever reason, the process of potatoes facinates my 4 year old, so he frequently goes out with me to “help”. As I dug and he picked the potatoes and put them in the bucket, I was entertained with the most delightful story from my son. In this story, I was a queen (not a very powerful queen from my viewpoint if I’m out digging potatoes instead of attending to matters of state) and he was a prince. Apparently we had many adventures and did amazing things but today we were digging potatoes. I’m actually looking foreward to harvesting this year’s crop of potatoes, just to have another time like that with him. I often have experience like that with my kids when we’re doing Martha tasks. Sometimes it’s the only way to get my teenagers to talk to me about stuff.

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