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May your days be ‘mary’ and filled with fishing line

M

ost people stock up on things like plastic storage bags, baking supplies and paper products around the holidays. My family was a little different. We always made sure we had an ample supply of 100 pound test fishing line.

You see, every year my mother would try with all her might to pick out the perfect tree. She, like many moms around the holiday season, wanted the food, decorations and festivities to be the best possible. However, the grand ol’ tree became her nemesis. No matter what she did, the tree never stood up straight, it always exposed a bald spot that was nowhere to be found at the Christmas tree farm, and it actually looked like it was trying to fight her as she put on the ornaments. Our only recourse was to truss that thing up like a turkey with fishing line. I cannot think of a Christmas without hooks and line extending all over the living room. That memory makes me laugh and smile and think how awesome it was.

As Christmas approaches and I deal with my own arch enemies of the season, I can’t help but think, is it all really necessary? What is this need we have to make everything perfect at Christmas? Are we missing the big picture?

One of the more recognized passages of scripture in the book of Luke is the story of the sisters named Mary and Martha. Luke 10:38-42 records these words: ”As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

Every time I read this I identify with and feel sorry for poor Martha and envision Mary as a brat. Of course, scripture does not back up my personification of Mary, but I can almost see her sticking her tongue out at her overworked and chastised sister.

The scripture clearly states that this is Martha’s house. She is the hostess, striving to be the one with the mostess. She is opening her home to 13 men. They need food and shelter. She is actively taking care of preparations that “had” to be made. All the girl wants is a little help, and there’s Mary just sittin’. Then Jesus speaks and reality of the situation, and what is important drops like a bag of hammers.

My identification with Martha is most evident at Christmas, and when I put myself in her place, the words of Jesus almost seem rude and condescending, “Mary’s right, and you’re wrong.” I can picture myself with a house full of people, a turkey in the oven, kids and animals running amok and not a square of toilet paper to be found and then someone strolls by and says, “just come sit down, relax like everyone else.” I can barely type this without a blind rage coming over me. I don’t know if Martha had anger management issues, but I bet Jesus’ praise of Mary’s decision stung just a little.

This time of year has a way of exposing and exploiting many of our character flaws, specifically those that resemble Martha. You see, as much as I want to justify Martha and villainize Mary, it’s just not possible. Mary wasn’t lazy or bratty, as far as we know from scripture. All we know is that she chose wisely. Mary, in that moment, recognized what was important and didn’t let anything get in the way of that.

I don’t think Jesus was doubting or insinuating that house guests require some type of preparations. He is simply telling her, “Don’t miss the good stuff while you are fretting with things that don’t matter.”

There is no doubt that Christmas requires preparations. Putting up a tree, baking goodies, shopping, and millions of other things are all part of it. But when I think back on what made Christmas special, it never involved stuff or even food. It involved experiences with the people that I love. It involved fishing line and possessed trees that refused to be perfect. My hope for this Christmas season is that we remember the lesson of the sisters, chose, embrace and enjoy the few things that really matter.

Heather Emory lives in Brookhaven with her husband and three daughters. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and teaches in the Behavioral Science Division at Hinds Community College.