"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “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.”
I’ve titled our Lenten Series: “Breaking Free” because the gospel is filled with language of freedom from all that distracts us and diminishes abundant life. Jesus WANTS our lives to be full of what truly matters. “I came so they may have life and have it in abundance.” One thing I know diminishes abundant life is resentment. Yes? We hear this in Martha’s response today. As an over-functioner myself, I know this feeling well and I hear it in the stories of so many relationships. Why doesn’t he pull his weight! Why can’t she see how much I truly do for this family! Why don’t they appreciate how good a friend I really am! Familiar? I suspect you’ve felt your own version of resentment along the way.
Here’s the good news: we have control over our response to what happens in life, if we have the courage to dig deep. If we are truly interested in living into the redeeming hope of Jesus, we need to do the tough work of discerning what keeps us from lives of abundant hope, joy, and peace. This includes asking why we hold onto resentment and how we might learn to break free. To release what distracts from true life. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Love.
The Enneagram tool, as I’ve described these past few weeks, gives us a framework for understanding ourselves better: What values motivate us and what keeps us from right relationships. Rohr says, “The “discernment of spirits” that Paul and St. Ignatius spoke of means developing a spiritual instinctive certainty for which of my impulses really create life and which ultimately destroy it.”
Would you like an example of how practicing self-awareness can actually lead to life more abundant? I’ll get real practical: let’s talk laundry. Even with the convenience of modern technology, someone’s still got to do it. If you live alone, it’s fairly cut and dry. But if you live with others, laundry can quickly become a thing. This week I was searching for a particular laundry meme my friend recently posted, I came across several good ones: Indulge me for a moment: 1. “Based on the amount of laundry I do each week, I’m going to assume people live here I have not yet met.” 2. “Not sure if I should do laundry, or buy more underwear.” 3. Printed on the tag of a sweater: “Just give it to your mother, she knows how to do it.” 4. “I don’t want to make you jealous of my glamorous lifestyle, but I’m sorting laundry on a Saturday night.” 5. And the one I was looking for in the first place: “Wait, did you know there are people who wash, fold, AND put away their laundry on the SAME day?!” That one’s for my mom, who took her laundry day very seriously.
In fact, it’s my mom who modeled for me that women do the laundry in the house. And it took me 4 years into our marriage to realize the reason my mom did laundry for our household is because she worked outside the home 1 day a week, not five. My mom and dad worked out household equity in which laundry was her thing, and she never resented it. At first in our marriage, neither did I. As a grad student with a flexible schedule, me doing laundry made sense. But things shifted when both AJ and I had full-time jobs, and then enter children, and I began resenting not only doing the laundry, but also him not truly seeing my efforts.
Enter my Enneagram type 2 status. I love helping, until it becomes overwhelming, then I still help- but you better be grateful for it, or my inner sense of justice begins to roar! At the time this laundry business came to a head, I didn’t yet have the capacity to understand WHY I was holding resentment, I just knew something had to change. So one day, I stopped. I stopped assuming that AJ needed me to do his laundry. And you know what? He didn’t. In fact, the reason he couldn’t see how much I did his laundry, is because his threshold for when laundry needs to get done is very different than mine. Remember that meme, “Not sure if I should do laundry, or buy more underwear?” You get the point.
I assumed I was needed more than I was actually needed. Turns out, this is pretty common for twos. We think we’re being helpful (and sometimes we are), but we are prone to overextending, just like Martha. We get distracted by all the tasks, that we sometimes lose focus on what really matters. Even now, as I’m folding laundry at 8:30pm on Saturday night, AJ will say, “Emily, just relax.” And when I’m healthy, I can hear the invitation like Jesus offers Martha, “Emily, Emily, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Love.
This is why understanding what motivates can truly lead to a more abundant life. Rohr says, “Twos, for example, develop guilt feelings when they have the sense that they are not doing enough for others.” No one is asking me to overextend. It’s just a part of who I am. And when I can recognize those forces within me, I begin to have control over them. I can begin to co-create my redemption story away from resentment and toward life in abundance. I can begin to say no to someone else’s dirty laundry.
Rohr says, “Based on our predispositions, parental and environmental influences, as well as societal factors, all of us create in the course of our development certain ideals, whose realization we pursue. Our self-image is determined largely by these ideals, which we also use to measure other people. Feelings of guilt arise when we do not live up to these ideals. Likewise, we reproach others if they disregard our ideals. Unfortunately these internalized accepted ideals are often false or at least exaggerated.”
You know what’s happened since I stopped doing the laundry AJ never asked or expected me to do in the first place? 1. I learned AJ knows how to operate a washing machine. 2. I learned how freeing it can be to simply step over a pair of socks rather than give into my compulsion to pick them up. 3. On the rare occasion I throw a load of his laundry in- I do it because I love him, not because I feel obligated. That is “the better part” that Jesus speaks. Helping for the sake of love, not obligation.
I never thought I’d be able to use laundry as an example of abundant life- but it’s true. I’ve released my Martha-like resentment about a household task that was keeping me from right-relationship. And now, I wonder how Christ can help redeem the work of doing dishes!
No matter what Enneagram type we are, all of us have room to move further from resentment and closer to redemption. In the name of the one who asks us to keep our focus simple: Life is about love. Let’s figure out how we each do that best, because love will set us free.