Peter the apostle and Martha (sister to Mary and Lazarus) are two of my favorite people in the Bible. I imagine it's because I feel we share what many people consider to be character flaws. Peter, who was at times impetuous and impulsive- and Martha, who was gently reproved for failing to choose the better part as her sister Mary had done.
As a child, hearing the story of Mary and Martha always saddened me a little. I felt sad for Martha- that she was so often used in Sunday school lessons as the prime example of "what not to do" in selecting priorities. I imagined her working her little heart out, sweeping floors and preparing food, only to be told that she had missed the bigger picture. What a let down that must have been for her! My heart went out to her, and as I've grown older, I've come to realize that that's probably because I'm a Martha.
The other night as I lay in bed, I felt overwhelmed and discouraged with all the responsibilities that I face on a regular basis, feeling like I was falling further and further behind. It reminded me of when I would visit the St. Anthony sand dunes as a child and I would try to walk up the face of one of the steep dunes. It seemed like for every step I took, I would slide two back. The top of the sand dunes always seemed out of reach, no matter how hard I tried.
Usually when I feel discouraged at night, I realize it's fatigue-not logic- who's doing the talking. The best thing I can do after 9pm is to turn my head off and look at things again in the morning after a good night's sleep.
In the morning I did feel better, but was still aware of the overwhelming responsibilities I face and the need to re-prioritize.
In an attempt to validate, but not enable my feelings of inundation, I wrote out what I believed were expectations in the different areas of my life: personal, family, children, spouse, and church. I realize that as women we often stress ourselves out over imaginary expectations- most of which are self-imposed so I tried to be realistic in deciding what my expectations are for myself- things like daily scripture study and prayer, exercise, spending regular one-on-one time with each child, allowing myself and my husband our own personal time, fulfilling church responsibilities and such. Thirty-one expectations came from my list- many of which I feel need to be done on a daily basis.
I thought of the Savior's admonition to Martha, who pointed out that Mary had "chosen the good part" and I felt overwhelmed with the question, "what in the world is the better part?" I've resented this admonition at times, which over the years has become a very personal one to me. What to I trim out, when my time, resources, and human capacities are already so stretched?
I thought back to my trips to the sand dunes and remembered that even when I felt like I was going nowhere, I would usually look up, after what seemed like hours of trudging (which were probably only a few minutes) and realized that I had in fact made it to the top. The summit would always come if I just kept moving, putting one foot in front of the other. The sand flowing downward created an optical illusion, making me believe I had been going no where, when in fact I had been moving all along.
I still don't have the exact answer to "what is the better part?" I imagine the answer changes day by day, child by child. If I could have been there that day with Martha, I would tell her that in our attempt to see the bigger picture, we'll miss it from time to time. And that's okay. I'm coming to learn that that's part of the process. I would give her a hug and tell her she's doing better than she realizes... and that in the end, there is no such thing as lost ground if we just keep moving.