The tireless caregiver,
that’s what Martha was.
She was always working,
always moving.
Her hands and feet,
let alone her mind,
seldom slowed.
Mary, her sister, took a different approach.
She sat with her body stilled,
her mind quieted.
She listened with her whole being.
As we might expect, Martha got perturbed—
“Mary ought to be lending a hand!”
First Martha stewed about it,
then she spewed.
Her sister kept concentrating on what
the man before both of them
wanted to share.

This story is a classic,
recorded first in the Gospel of Luke.
The man in the story is Jesus.
As the tale has come to us,
he has a few words to say to Martha.
In a very understanding manner,
he tells her she comes across
as awfully anxious, awfully burdened,
with all her scurrying about.
She’s both distracted and distracting.
Her sister, on the other hand,
is single-mindedly quiet,
concentrating, absorbing,
working to understand.
Mary has chosen to do a very good work,
different as it is.

Technically, this is not a caregiver story.
While a kind of care was being shown that day,
that wasn’t the real issue
behind this human event.
The issue was how these two people—
sisters in flesh, sisters in spirit—
related to the man in their midst.
One bustled around,
trying to make everything just right,
all the while grousing inwardly
about all the work she “had” to do.
The other settled herself,
all eyes and ears,
all heart and soul,
and became both present and attuned.
One displayed a kind of caring.
The other breathed a kind of caring.

Why do I retell this story today?
Not because it is a religious one,
but because it is a human one,
a universal one.
I believe there is a Martha and a Mary
inside virtually all caregivers.
The Martha in us is primed for action,
ready to roll up the sleeves
and start swinging those arms.
If we’re vulnerably honest,
our Martha is also usually invested
in making sure we’re seen in this way.
So a little huffing and puffing
and a random louder-than-normal sigh
can help bring our point home.
The Mary in us somehow knows
that truly effective caring can happen
when we’re doing seemingly nothing,
or at least very little.
We’re sitting, taking in, communing.
We’re not trying to demonstrate caring;
we’re simply inhaling it and exhaling it
so it begins to fill the space we’re in.

I believe that within all of us as caregivers
there is a valid place for our Martha—
our aware and discerning Martha,
as well as a place for our Mary—
our purposeful and committed Mary.
As thoughtful caregivers,
we’re not one or the other—
we’re both.
Moreover, our partners in care know that too,
and are grateful for it.

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