Getting My Martha On

Like most nights when my husband is working, a good hour needs to be dedicated to demolition clean-up after the kids go to bed. Between whatever the dog destroyed during the day (diapers, stuffed animals, Legos, etc.), the food left over on the table, chairs, countertop, and walls, toys that migrated all on their own from the basement where they are supposed to stay, and the dozens of sheets of paper that have accumulated from coloring, story-telling, backpack explosions, card making, etc., it takes at least that long to give the interior of the house the dose of loving kindness it deserves. 

Part of the reason it takes as long as it does is because there’s a handful of fruitless attempts mixed in there to keep Beans from licking the silverware and dirty plates as I load the dishwasher, or to keep Beans from chewing ev-er-y-thing in the living room, except his chewy or dog toys, or to keep Beans from barking at the real squirrel or the imagined squirrel, or to keep Beans from drinking out of the toilet (kids! keep the toilet seat down and the door shut! gah!).

Sometimes I’m very cranky about this nightly process.  The house will be wrecked again in the same way tomorrow, after all.  Is it really worth the effort, when most of the house will be asleep or at work/school while the house is clean?  How did the food get on the wall anyway?  And what is the deal with this dog?  Whose idea was it to get a dog (…)?  All I really want to do is get under a blanket and write.  Okay, all I really, really want to do is get under a blanket, eat chocolate, and watch The Biggest Loser. 

But instead I’m chipping away at the dried banana and rice cereal on Henry’s high chair.  That stuff could be a substitute for concrete.  Instead, I’m unloading and reloading the dishwasher. (The dishwasher that I love, trust me.  It’s awesome and courageous and strong and can bench press all of my stickiest, caked-on something or other pots and pans, with one arm tied behind its back.)  Instead, I’m corralling all of those delinquent toys that escaped all on their own from the toy room and shepherding them back to their corners.  And I’m doing all of that with this joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Really.

But there are other times when this cleaning is a cleansing process, a sort of decompression that permits the stress and thinking of the day to be rinsed down the drain.  When I’m done and I have a glass of wine in my hand, a blanket across my lap, and a pillow behind my back, I can sigh a tired and contented sigh and know that the house will be clean for a whole ten hours before the day starts again tomorrow.  I can survey the kitchen and not see spilled something-or-other on any surface, and it is a beautiful thing.  I can turn off the light as I shut the door, closing down for the night in satisfaction.  Nothing is hidden or left undone.  Aaaah.

This exercise in creating order from chaos is what I’m thinking of as “Getting my Martha on”.  Martha is the super event coordinator for Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament.  Sometimes she gets grumpy about it and asks Jesus to tell her sister to get off her rocker and start helping her.  Other times, she’s the gracious servant, hosting her recently raised-from-the-dead brother and all of his friends. 

I think when Martha is at her best, her preparations and hospitality are an act of worship.  When Martha is at her worst, she’s just busy and bitter about it. I need to decide which Martha I plan on being– cranky Martha, or worshipful Martha.  Some nights it’s easier than others to choose to engage in household chores as an act of worship, because the kids made it easy – they cooperated throughout the bedtime routine, they sang their sweet little prayers and asked for hugs and kisses.  Other times the night doesn’t go as well, and buying into the joy of the Lord is much harder.

But I think that’s part of the point.  Can I worship God even when I don’t really feel like it?  Can I make these mundane tasks that are necessary every day more than just scrubbing down the counters, especially when worship is one of the farthest notions from my mind?  I’d rather not receive the rebuke of Christ in my mutterings and make every effort to turn bitterness into fruitfulness, crankiness into praise.  And, okay, sometimes I’m going to choose “the better way” and just plain shirk my household chores, opting into prayer or Bible study… or DVR’ed episodes of Hoarders.  At least someone is getting some cleaning done then.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

2 thoughts on “Getting My Martha On

  1. That is a fantastic way of looking at things! I will have to keep that in mind when I am doing everything humanly possible to not clean because I need an attitude adjustment.

    I must admit it took my brain a couple of second to switch from “Martha Stewart” to “Bible Martha.” I read “Martha is the super event coordinator for Jesus…” and thought, “I don't even remember anything religious Martha Stewart has ever event coordinated…” Duh! I now like to think Bible Martha was Jesus' personal Martha Stewart.


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