The Psychological Side of Scripture: Martha's Anxiety and Mine

anxiety trust Jul 28, 2020

~ Guest Blog Post by CatholicPsych Therapist Chantal Leger ~

Recently, as I was praying with the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke, I received a beautiful reflection on our common tendency toward anxiousness. Now, let me begin by making it clear that I am not referring to any clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder, but rather to the natural human tendency to stress and overwhelm that we all feel.

In the Gospel, Martha and Mary are two sisters who respond to Jesus’ presence at their home in two different ways. Mary sits at His feet listening attentively, resting in His presence. And Martha. . . well. . . she’s another story. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me (Luke 10:40 NABRE)." 

St. Luke uses the Greek word “mérimnas” when Jesus responds to the over-stressed sister, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious [mérimnas] and worried about many things.” The Greek noun “meris” is “part” or “portion,” and it is the root of the verb “merimnas.” This leads to a more literal definition of “you are anxious” as “you are divided into parts.” By repeating her name, Jesus emphasizes that she has divided her mind and heart among so many tasks that she has finally split herself in two!

When we experience anxiety, it's as if we are in pieces; Jesus recognized this in Martha and spoke peace into her busy life. Jesus continues His personalized message to Martha, saying, “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part (remember “meris” and “merimnas”) and it will not be taken from her.” Jesus explains that Mary chose the better part while Martha tried to manage and coordinate every divided part of herself.

What does this mean for us? When we are anxious and worried we are in parts. Psychological health does not require us to eliminate our natural anxious reactions, but rather to simply choose "the better part."

I can resemble this Gospel's busy, divided woman, especially when I’m hosting a party. I love having people over, love making things beautiful, yummy, and Pinterest-worthy. But sometimes I can get so distracted by the details that I begin to bark tasks at my husband out of anxiousness.

Jesus’ words to Martha are never more clear to me than in my party-planning anxiety. There is one part of me that really wants things to be perfect for my guests when they arrive; there is another part of me that has such abiding love for my husband. When I bark orders at him, I am not choosing the better part of myself.

In this Gospel story, as Jesus challenges Martha He also challenges me. I'm challenged to be mindful of myself and all of my "parts"; I'm challenged to make good, holy, and better choices. And I’m challenged to imitate Mary, to rest in Christ's love and learn how to treat others and myself better.

To what is He challenging you through this story?

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