[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on June 20, 2015.]
In Scripture, we meet two sisters, Mary and Martha, each assuming a defined role. Martha busies herself preparing for guests, while Mary only wants to sit with the company, namely Jesus, to listen and chat.
And though I love family life, domestic perfection has never motivated me. I’d rather hang out with my kids on the patio with a fire pit roasting marshmallows than dust the furniture.
My middle name, Marie, French for Mary, may have influenced these tendencies.
But in asking who has the better part, Mary or Martha, inevitably, we conclude that life calls us to be each at times. And recently, I had a chance to don my Martha hat, and found myself blessed.
I told my dear college friend that I wanted to come to her son’s graduation party, but only if I could be there as servant, not guest. She agreed tentatively, admitting she maybe could use some help.
We hadn’t been at her home in southern Minnesota more than a couple minutes when she put me and my younger two boys to work.
“I’m so sorry to do this to you,” she said, still in her robe, “but I haven’t even showered yet, and guests are due to arrive in an hour. Can you …” She’d been up late getting ready and time was slipping away.
Thrilled to have been asked, my sons and I soon headed out back to begin clipping plastic tablecloths to long tables. We then set about arranging the golf-themed table settings, which had all been sorted and planned to the tee in advance; we simply added the finishing touches.
The tables now ready, my friend summoned me again. Could I take some videos? And by the way, the kitchen helper couldn’t stay the whole time. Would I mind doling out sloppy joes and fruit later?
It might seem an odd parallel, but it felt a bit like showing up at the hospital during my father’s final days. I’d arrived without family responsibilities or deadlines and had nothing to do but be present.
“Lord, use me in the ways you see fit,” I’d whispered then. “Let me do your will during my stay.” And I’ll always treasure what transpired over the next 48 hours, despite it having ended in Dad’s last breath. It was a holy death, and my openness helped it be so.
And now, here I was again, ready to do God’s will, to help my friend usher her son into another phase of his life.
There’s a time for everything; a time to serve and be served. Helping others when we are in a position to give can be a true joy. God created us to pour ourselves out in this way, after all, and we benefit, too. Love gives to us as we give it out.
I thoroughly enjoyed being Martha that day. Even though the graduation visit provided few chances for my friend and me to catch up, all went as I’d hoped. I’d come not to dominate her time, after all, but help free her to be a happy host, and it felt good.
On the way home with the sun just about to drop, we passed Big Stone Lake reservoir, and I suddenly felt inspired to turn around and pull up near the rocky shoreline.
A swarm of gnats danced around us as we exited the van, threatening an immediate retreat. But then a glimmer caught our attention and, mesmerized, we began moving toward the long, golden line shimmering on the surface of the water, seemingly leading straight to us; a thick ray emanating from the glowing sun behind.
I breathed in deeply, watching as my sons hopped on the rocks below and struck “Karate Kid” poses on wooden posts, giggling as they held rock-throwing contests as the sun settled further into the earth.
My presence and service that day was my gift to my friend. The sunset and chance to watch my boys revel in it was God’s gift to me.
And I realized that whether Mary or Martha, if we open ourselves to God’s will, we will not be disappointed.