"Control-Freaks" in the Bible: The Story of Martha

If you know me, you know that I can be a bit of a control freak. I prefer being in a leadership role because I like having control over all the little moving parts of an operation. It can be a great character trait, like for myself, I am usually very confident in a leadership role. But every character trait, I think, can have a negative side. I tend to get anxious when something is beyond my control or when the outcome of a situation is uncertain. I worry often what people think of me; that if I slip up or don't have my "crap" together that they'll judge me for it. Liking control or being a control freak has its positives and negatives, but often can feel like there's more negative than positive.

I used to wonder if there were bible characters with this same controlling behavior. Or was I the only one? Was my problem unique and unaddressed? It took several attempts at searching the internet and bible stories to really uncover if there were "control freaks" in the bible. Sure enough, there are, and funnily enough, they're all female (not sure what that could mean... though thought that was interesting!) Now, whether you're male or female, if you yourself deal with controlling personality issues, continue reading! This is for you!

Let's talk about Martha. Martha was Lazarus and Mary's sister. We meet her for the first time in Luke 10 as she's preparing for Jesus, the son of God, to eat in her home. Unfortunately, her sister Mary is busy sitting at Jesus's feet, leaving Martha to finish preparing everything herself. I can't imagine being Martha, trying to get everything ready for the MESSIAH, only to look over to find her sister having abandoned her station. I would be incredibly frustrated!

Let's summarize the important parts of this video as we continue along (in case you don't want to watch it all the way through):

"Martha is likely the most familiar, practical, and like us. She's just so real."

When Jesus and His 12 disciples had arrived at Martha's house, they had arrived unannounced and hungry. Can you imagine your spouse, significant other, sibling, or friend showing up at your place with 12 friends and expecting to be fed?

Martha reacted in a way that was so off the cuff, without preparation. She welcomed Jesus and the disciples warmly into her home. She was prepared to serve her Savior whole-heartedly.

"But somewhere between the welcome and the work, her attitude begins to change."

Maybe if God knocked on your door, you'd welcome Him in with open arms! You'd be ready to serve Him to your fullest ability. But what was once excitement and praise turns to bitterness and frustration. You start busying yourself with things you thought would make Him happy, only to miss out on time spent with Him.

While Martha was busy preparing things, Mary sat by Jesus. "She has a sister Mary, that also sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His word" (Luke 10:39). Scholars claim that this implied Mary was helping Martha, but then went to focus all her attention on Jesus. Martha then turns to Jesus, complaining and scolding Mary. He responds with:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

What an incredibly gentle, patient, and compassionate response, don't you think? I feel like if I were Jesus, I would respond with "Well what do you want ME to do about it? Talk to Mary!" or perhaps "You're the one wasting time in the kitchen when you could be spending time with God in the flesh!" (Thank God I'm not Jesus, I'd be sassy.)

There are some "lost in translation" elements of this particular passage in Luke. The part where Jesus says "Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" may be confusing to you. What could He mean by "good portion?"

There's a footnote referring back to the book of Psalm that gives us a better understanding of this phrase "good portion." Psalm 16:5, 73:26, 119:57, and Lamentations 3:24 also mention this same idea of "portion."

The Hebrew word for “portion” can also be viewed as “inheritance.” Historically and culturally, inheritance was a large part of the Israel way of life, both physically (tied to the dividing of the Promised Land) and theologically.

"When a biblical writer says, “God is my portion,” he means that God is the source of his happiness and blessing. He is content with all that the Lord is and provides. He has the best inheritance imaginable and does not seek any possession or comfort outside of God. Riches, honor, friends, and fame—nothing is as valuable as the promises of God." (GotQuestions)

Martha was busy preparing things for Jesus. If everything is perfect, she probably thought, then He will be pleased. Although there's nothing wrong with wishing to please God and to have our "crap" together, Martha's sister Mary chose to be in Jesus's presence rather than fuss in the kitchen. Jesus Himself, in this case, was enough for Mary, while Martha had become so wrapped up in the "logistics" and details of her service that she had forgotten the importance of the one whom she was serving... who just so happened to be in the other room.

Martha is a prime example of what we would call a "control freak." I can relate so much to Martha's behavior. If you are a control freak yourself, it may be discouraging to hear that you're being anxious over unnecessary things and are missing the necessary focus - Jesus.

But Martha was still a close friend to Jesus. Jesus still loved her unconditionally which is evident even in the way He spoke to her in Luke 10. As someone who has a more controlling personality, it's easy to get lost in the details of something. I'm constantly having to check myself when I'm putting together content for ClaireChats. I worry over things like "what if the phrasing is off?" "Does my voice sound ok in this clip?" "Is this picture aesthetically pleasing enough?" "What if I'm not using the right hashtags?"

If there were details that needed our attention, wouldn't we trust that God would be sure to bring those to us? But most of the time, the details don't need our attention, only God does. We waste our time worrying over small things, getting lost and flustered over them so much so that we lose sight of God.

"That doesn't mean I shouldn't be serving, it means in my serving, I need to be where I need to be in that moment, not worrying about the other things."

We can miss Jesus when we allow ourselves to get distracted by things that are often out of our control or are unnecessary. The next thing we know, we are wishing that we had more time for opportunities to encounter Christ, to serve Him, and to spend time with Him.

"Jesus is quietly saying, in His silence, you are doing things I never called you to do."

Maybe we try to excuse our busyiness because we believe what we're doing is good. "But I'm serving God, this is good!" "But I'm trying to be a better person, this is good!" The fault isn't in the idea of serving God or trying to be more Christ like, but in the attempts.

"Instead of the answers Martha was looking for, she got rebuke... But Jesus lovingly says, relax it's just time with me. Mary is the one you're angry at, but she's the one doing what I'd have her do, spending time with me."

Often times I think we turn to God and complain about our circumstances as we try to manage or maintain the messes in our lives rather than stopping and sitting at God's feet as He picks up the pieces for us. To be honest, you'll never have your "crap" together. No matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to micro-adjust to perfection what your humanity broke in the first place.

For some reason, control freaks like myself, don't want to admit defeat. Maybe they believe that human brokenness or failure can be prevented... Or perhaps they haven't truly accepted that God's grace and sacrifice cover all of our inevitable failures, sins and brokenness.

What would happen if instead of trying to "insure" every outcome, we prayed instead? What if, rather than rushing things and worrying over details, we would spend that time with God? How often do we cling to our own understanding, to worldly things, or to our circumstances rather than to God Himself?

"Mary knew Jesus was the only one who could change that situation (her brother Lazarus's death), and in her suffering and grief and woundness, she is clinging to Christ."

The contrast between Mary and Martha in Luke 10 is telling. It shows us differences in an attitude of faith. God wishes for us to serve Him, don't get me wrong, but we shouldn't become so wrapped up in the fine details that we miss Him in the process. And for those who always want to be prepared or equipped for things like myself... Cling to God, not to your own understanding or abilities, and trust that He will walk with you.

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