How to Cultivate a Mary Heart in a Martha World

April 1, 2024 2:28 PM

Like most modern-day women who like to get things done, there are two versions of me.  The one, I like to call “Hustle Rose” and the other is referred to as “Heart Rose.”

Some of you have witnessed “Hustle Rose” firsthand and many of you can even identify a little with her.  Hustle Rose is a force of determination and ambition.  She’s up before dawn, and hits the ground running, driven by dreams and deadlines, always ready for the next meeting, zoom call or unexpected turn.  She excels at multi-tasking and can easily accommodate more projects, parties or playdates.  She is a “maximalist”, automatically filling in empty spaces on her calendar without a second thought.  She has something to prove, both to herself and the world around her.

“Heart Rose” is different.  Heart Rose is resilience, balanced with grace.  She exudes both confidence AND peace as she tackles one task at a time.  Her days begin slowly, with coffee and journaling, and ends with nourishing meals she lovingly prepares and shares with her family and friends.  She radiates strength in mind and body, glowing from daily self-care rituals, walks in the woods, and inner contentment.  She is a “minimalist” who simplifies her calendar with one stroke of a powerful magic wand she calls “The Word No.”  She has nothing to prove, both to herself and the world around her.

There’s a famous story in the Bible about two sisters that reminds me a little bit of Hustle Rose and Heart Rose.  Over the years, many best-selling and popular books have been written about Mary and Martha.  My favorite versions of the classic story are the ones where you stop trying to “bible study” them with your head and start reading them with your heart.  In honor of Easter this year, I’m taking you back in time, to the story of Mary and Martha, as a reflective tale for every modern woman who feels she isn’t good enough…isn’t loving enough…isn’t doing enough.  Because the life of a woman today isn’t really all that different from that of Mary and Martha in the New Testament.

Please excuse my creative and modernistic spin on the old bible version, but in a nutshell, the story goes something like this…Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, lived in the town of Bethany, a small village in Judaea just south of the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.  The three siblings were some of Jesus’ closest friends.   Jesus had been very busy at the time, doing lots of important things, like catching fish for the multitudes, teaching sermons on the mountain, and performing miracles around town.  One day, the sisters thought it would be nice to invite Jesus over to their house for a relaxing dinner.  Now, Martha was a first-rate hustler.  She got busy cleaning the house, setting a beautiful table, and preparing a delicious feast to welcome the King of Kings.  No detail was too small for her keen eye and party-planning prowess.  She made sure the candles and floral centerpiece were just the right height, the side dishes were numerous, and the red wine paired perfectly with the herb crusted rack of lamb.   By the time Jesus rang the doorbell, Martha was exhausted, but proud of what she had accomplished and expected a little praise for it – or at least a flipping “thank you!”

But Jesus took no notice of all the little details that Martha spent HOURS curating.  Nor did he take the time to compliment her on her roasted rosemary potatoes or homemade hot cross buns!   Instead, Jesus was in the living room, enjoying himself with Lazarus and Mary, laughing and chatting it up while reminiscing about the good old days.  That’s about the time Martha became resentful.  After all, while she busied herself with preparations, her sister did absolutely nothing!  And when Jesus arrived, instead of setting out the charcuterie board as Martha instructed, Mary ignored her request and just sat herself down at Jesus’ feet!  Finally, Martha had enough and when she voiced her complaint to Jesus, he had the audacity to admonish her for busying herself with all that needless work!  Then he praised Mary’s choice to learn and be present over Martha’s choice to showcase her perfectionism and to-do list!

Because the telling of the story is centered around Martha, that’s the character with whom I identified.  After all, if it weren’t for the Marthas of the world (like me!), how would shit get done?  So, in my Hustle Rose mind, I took sides with Martha, and wanted to call Mary out as the slacker that she was!  Plus, Hustle Rose related to Martha’s motives more.  For many years, Hustle Rose threw extravagantly themed dinner parties that were all about trying to impress guests, rather than being present in their company.

Today, as Heart Rose, yoga has helped me to put myself in the Mary role.  I realize now the peace she must have experienced during that visit with Jesus.  How she could actually enjoy and even remember it, instead of being so overwhelmed that she couldn’t recall any detail other than the fact that the Chocolate Souffle almost burned.   I realize now how connected she was to herself and the other guests and how present she was with Jesus, who was an important person in her life.  And I now respect her ability to detach from all the little distractions in order to be more fully present in the moment.  Because Mary chose presence over perfectionism, she soaked in an experience that lingered in her heart long after the silverware was put away.

More than 2000 years after the story of Mary and Martha was told, simply being present isn’t how our current society likes to operate, especially with all the digital devices that fight for our attention spans.   It’s shocking to admit that choosing to put down the perfectionism, performance, and people-pleasing is still counter-cultural!  But when we choose to be more like Mary, we choose to create space and grace to experience more joy and peace.  And, in choosing to conduct ourselves with a Mary Heart, we can help other generations of women realize that dropping perfectionism in favor of living in the present IS a viable and attainable choice for them as well.

Like the teachings of yoga, the story of Mary and Martha teaches the importance of spiritual attentiveness and inner reflection.  Mary symbolized the meditative, heart-centered approach, akin to yoga’s focus on mindfulness, presence, and inner connection.  Martha represents the active, worldly duties that are important, but can become the main focus for many of us, which is the wrong focus.  The balance we all strive for is to engage fully in our responsibilities while still maintaining inner peace. If we pay attention, we can integrate several of these aspects into our daily lives, action with awareness, duty with detachment, presence with imperfection.

The practice of yoga helps me to cultivate a Mary Heart by anchoring me in the present moment.  When I nurture an inner calm amidst my busy life, it allows me to foster compassion towards myself and others.  I find a harmony between the inner spiritual journey I want to enjoy and the external responsibilities I have to tackle every day.As Easter Sunday parades around the corner, and you too begin to plan your banquet fit for a King, my wish for you is that you imagine being Mary, sitting contently at your holiday table, living in the moment with your guests, and feeling ease, awe, wonderment, gratitude, and love. May you always have a Mary Heart in a Martha World.

Happy Easter Every Bunny and NAMASTE!