I thought I should write to you about what happened yesterday. I don’t think you understood. Perhaps it’s because you’re a man. You don’t see the emotional labour that falls on my shoulders – how I am the one who has to remember to do everything from sweeping the floors to baking the bread to chopping the wood, how I am the one who makes sure the visitors’ feet are washed and the fire doesn’t go out.
I couldn’t believe you praised my fat, lazy sister for sitting there doing nothing; how you criticised me when I was the one who was doing all the work. She’s always like this, Jesus. You wouldn’t believe the state of her house. She doesn’t care what she looks like, either. She hasn’t got a clue about what clothes go together, and I don’t know when she last did any exercise. Didn’t you notice her helping herself to more than her share of the platter? She didn’t let you near the figs. I was so embarrassed. I saw she was crying at your feet, too – she never could hold herself together. She’s not even trying to do her best. I’ve tried to help her by telling her the truth, but she won’t listen. I’ve even tried to convince her she’s not so bad, but she’s clearly oversensitive and unforgiving and refuses to be close to me. I don’t think she appreciates my insights.
I don’t understand why you rebuked me. I tried so hard to show you hospitality, and you can’t deny that I’m the one who is organised and competent and hard-working. That was not OK with me, Jesus. Totally unfair.
By the way, I’ve heard you’re hanging around with some people who are really not your type – especially those filthy, God-forsaken lepers. Maybe you should think harder about how you want to be seen.
Thank you for your letter. Thank you for a delicious lunch and for your hospitality.
You are indeed a hard-working woman. Hard work is good when it’s done out of love, but I notice you doing it for another reason: to try to gain worth and to gain love. You think that if you try harder to be perfect, I will love you more, and you’re upset that I told you that’s not the case. I’m challenging the way you have thought for your whole life, and that’s difficult.
Martha, you are not perfect, and I can see in your anxious activity that you know that. You fret over your mistakes and regrets. You want to be seen as competent and respectable, but the game you are playing leads round and round in anxious circles and wears you out. You’re brittle and tense. You put all your energy into trying to earn something that can only be gained by resting and trusting and listening and believing.
Your words keep hurting Mary, so she’s keeping her distance. You point out faults in her to try to help her win at your game of striving to be perfect, but she’s not playing that game anymore, and she doesn’t need you to verbally snip her into shape. She has learned something you haven’t: that she is already loved, just as she is. She realises she is all those things you accuse her of, but she’s coming to trust that they don’t really matter because something else is more important.
I would like you to know that too, Martha. You are already perfectly loved. I don’t frown at failure, and I’m not impressed with achievement. My love isn’t fair, but it’s something better than fair – it is deep and free and constant. It’s here waiting for you, whenever you’re ready to lay down the measuring tapes and scales and charts and comparisons that are blinding you to it. You don’t yet know who you are when you’re not judging, not excelling, not living in fear of putting a foot wrong. My dear one, I’m much more comfortable with imperfection than you imagine.
My love longs to work in you, to soften your heart, to give you the space you need to feel and to grieve the things that you’ve stuffed into neat platitudes for fear they’ll leak out and betray your weakness. You can trust that good things will come of it. My love creates fruit that judgment never could.
By the way, speaking of fruit, I’ve never been very keen on figs.
Esther is a solo mother of four. She lives in Wellington, NZ.