Martha and Mary have always been in the back of my mind. I have always associated myself with Martha, wishing I was a Mary. Why is that? Why has Martha always born the brunt of disdain in Church lessons? Mary has also shown anxiety and temporal worries. We can learn from both of them.
Depression and the Gospel
Martha and Mary were sisters of Lazarus. In John 11, Lazarus became sick and died. I have never had a sibling or close family member pass away, but I can only imagine the desperation and utter sadness these two sisters must have felt, mourning for their brother, especially since all throughout the New Testament, it seems like all three siblings are very close.
When the sisters heard that Jesus was on His way to their city because He heard news of Lazarus’s passing, Martha immediately went to go find Jesus, whereas Mary “sat still in the house” (John 11:20). I have experienced some depression myself–I suffered from mild PPD, and I didn’t feel like doing anything. I didn’t really even want to try to fix it–I just wanted to lay down and sleep. I can imagine Mary just being frozen with grief.
Martha loved Lazarus just as much as Mary. She was mourning just as deeply as Mary. But, she knew that the Lord would help. She had faith in Christ. Martha had faith that Christ would help. When she found him, she asked
But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. (John 11:22).
She knew that the way to overcome depression and find solace was in Christ.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12).
Martha returned to Mary and told her that Jesus wanted to see her, too. So, Mary picked up her feet, dragged herself to where Jesus was, and as soon as she saw Him, she fell at His feet weeping (John 11:32). It is there, in verse 35, that the shortest, but one of the most poignant scriptures is, “Jesus wept.” He felt Mary’s pain and tried to comfort her by showing His empathy:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4)
Christ can ease our sorrows. If we head straight to His light, as Martha did, He can help us overcome our depression. He is there for us, to cry with us, as He did with Mary. What faith Martha had in Christ, to immediately leave her grieving sister, forget her own tears for a while, and seek Him out to ask for His help. I love that about Martha–she was taking care of her sister, and still taking care of her dead brother. She was strong for her family and tried to do what she could to make things better. As the eldest of 4 children, I take that to heart as what an older sister should do.
I have suffered with anxiety my entire life–to the point where I am now medicated. It is such a heavy burden that encompasses other ailments as well, such as OCD, hypochondria, and perfectionism.
Many times, we as women in the church, have high expectations and an ideal vision of what we should be as righteous handmaidens: the perfect stay-at-home mom, hostess, Relief Society president, DIY-er, etc. Not only does anxiety envelop you, but it also causes you to become self-centered. All the worries are at the forefront of your mind because you can’t do anything about them, you aren’t doing good enough, things aren’t as you wanted or planned for them to be. That is selfish, and not what the Gospel is about. I should know from personal experience.
This is what happened to Martha. Martha and Mary were hosting Jesus and other disciples at their house. Mary was “cumbered about” (Luke 10:40) trying to make sure that the dinner was prepared and cooked, while Mary was sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to him. Martha was trying to be a perfect hostess and was overwhelmed. I can relate–I try to make my house perfect when we are to have guests over. I also stress when the dinner isn’t fully cooked or prepared when guests arrive. Often, I apologize they have to wait another 10 minutes or so for me to finish dinner and I’m frantically cooking with 4 pans and 2 dishes in the oven (not to exaggerate at all!) Martha asked Christ
Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. (Luke 10:40)
Basically, Martha was saying, “Jesus, I’m doing this all by myself. Mary is helping me to host, but she’s not doing her part. Please tell her to help me finish dinner.” Martha is being a little selfish, as I was. Asking for forgiveness in a trivial matter such as not having dinner exactly on time is goading for attention. It’s not worth it to freak out over. But, to Martha, it was a big deal. Historically, the Jewish culture expected women to be on top of hospitality, so she was trying to fulfill expectations of her role as hostess. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said,
The Lord did not go into the kitchen and tell Martha to stop cooking and come listen. Apparently he was content to let her serve him however she cared to, until she judged another person’s service. … Martha’s self-importance … occasioned the Lord’s rebuke, not her busyness with the meal.
Martha’s primary mistake on this occasion seems to have been focusing on herself—even as she was serving others. The Savior helped Martha understand that it is not enough to simply serve the Lord and our fellowman. We must learn to lose ourselves in the process of serving and seek the Lord’s will to guide our desires and motives as well as our actions (see Luke 9:24;D&C 137:9). Disciples must overcome the tendency to think first of themselves and learn to serve Heavenly Father and His children with an eye “single to [His] glory” (D&C 88:67).
Christ suffered for not only our sins and physical ailments, but mental and emotional problems as well. It is not a sin to be anxious or depressed. However, it is not Christ-like to be self-focused. When we do that, we lose sight of Christ’s true love. Mary would have been helping Martha as well, since they lived together. But, she decided to do what was important to her and listen to Christ’s words. Christ wouldn’t have cared if dinner was on time, but cared that Martha was non-judgemental as Mary listened to Him. But, Christ still understands that mental obstacles are hard. He has given us promises in the scriptures for when we are suffering from anxiety as well:
6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
No matter what our aches, pains, worries, or feelings may be, Christ is our rock. He has been there and understands. He is there to lift us up. The best way to overcome these feelings is to let God do His work on us. “You are never taller than when you are on your knees.” Bend down and pray. I can testify to you it works. In the midst of some of my anxiety attacks, while I’m prostrated on the floor, crying rivers of tears, and hysterical, I get on my knees and begin to pray. By the time I finish, I’m calmer, the tears have stopped, I feel His warm hug, and hope and peace have started again to grow in my heart. Let Him comfort you, for He is the great Comforter.