Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mary or Martha? The Art of Choosing Joy


  • -CT readers: My author friend Abby Seixas will be speaking at the Deep River Public Library this Saturday, at 3PM. Her book Finding the Deep River Within contains some much needed sanity and encouragement for (sometimes) task-crazed women like myself!

  • -Of course we all want some semblance of order when guests arrive, yet don’t want to get too sweaty and crazy about it. For short-notice kind of visits (or if you’re just feeling lazy!), here’s a quick clean guide, more about creating an illusion of cleanliness than the real, elbow-grease deal!

  • This author writes about choosing joy by choosing meaning.


I knew Saturday morning was going to be pretty intense. An old friend from Long Island was coming to visit with her 2 boys. I hadn’t had much time to prepare during the week. Tom and Gavin started their day with errands, courtesy of a long list I handed them. That left me home alone to dig in and clean.

I put on some old CDs from my college days to get me going. And I should have listened more to the lyrics of Roll with It by Steve Winwood! For quite a while I got caught up in the “musts” and “shoulds” of my day, and even the “what ifs”. Must scrub those cabinets. Should have gotten more food. What if they get here before everything is “perfect”? Tom had gotten himself into a similar frenzy. After all of the errands he wanted to race home and mow the lawn, weed the beds, hose off the porch, etc, etc. All in record time, of course, should Suzi and the boys arrive early. For a while we indulged in our complaints, and endless litany of “to dos”.

Maybe Steve Winwood’s musical suggestions to “roll with it” or “get back in the high life again” finally sank in, because in the middle of the craziness I corrected my perspective. Suzi is like family. I should have been filled with joy at her arrival, not worrying that things would be less than perfect. I should have been savoring the fact that I’d finally meet her younger son. So I started dusting off some junior high school memories while applying Pledge to the coffee table, and I began to relax and smile. As fate would have it, she made record timing and arrived 2 hours early. A final quick scramble after her call from 15 miles away—dirty laundry shoved into the basement, overflowing garbage cans hastily emptied. A record-time shower, and I greeted Suzi’s family with wet hair, no makeup. I honored my friend with a joyful, attentive greeting and let my musts, shoulds, and what ifs dissolve.

I did not die, and Suzi did not leave, when I confessed that I hadn’t finished vacuuming before her arrival. No one seemed offended by my un-coiffed appearance. There were hugs and kisses all around. No one inspected for cobwebs or dust!

Carolyn Patierno, a minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist church here in Connecticut, gave a sermon that left quite an impression on me, several years ago now. She asked her listeners if we were “Marys or Marthas” in our approach to life. Mary and Martha were sisters who often hosted visits by Jesus. During one visit, Martha was caught up in the housework while Mary stopped her work and sat with Jesus. He said, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:38-42). The better part, the choice, is joy. Joy in friendship and in thought; joy in stopping to rest. Inherent in that joy is the simple ability to let go, allow things to unfold with forcing or fretting. It takes some focus, this joy, with so many potential tasks always swirling in the ether.

How good the conscious decision to just let go and be happy felt! I must practice being a Mary more often, and put Martha in the basement along with that dirty laundry.

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