Mary VS. Martha

You wouldn't think that there could be a Heavyweight Championship among Christian women, but there is.

Sweet, beautiful women get into the "ring" and fight it out. Sometimes it can get pretty ugly.

Not break-a-nail, muss-your-hair ugly.

Jewelry on a pig ugly. (Proverbs 11:22)

No, I'm not talking about the working mom vs. home mom match.
Or even the breast feeding mom vs. bottle feeding mom match.

I'm talking Mary vs. Martha.

It's a fight less talked about, but waged just as hard.

Who are these competitors?



Marthas tend to be "task oriented" and more inclined to be "distracted by all the preparations that had to be made" (Luke 10:39-40). She is likely to view her life through the "tasks to be done" lens, so her life is like a To-Do list:

  1. Get the kids dressed and fed for school. Tell daughter No, she cannot wear her favorite shirt again today. It is dirty.
  2. Kids out the door. Check
  3. Make the beds. Check
  4. Wash the dishes. Check.
  5. Interrupted by a phone call from a friend who needs to vent frustrations. Try to listen and work at the same time. Pray for friend, get back to work.
  6. Tidy up the living room. Check
  7. Read to the children. Check.
  8. Load of laundry. Check.
  9. Stop to kiss a booboo. Distract child from pain by asking if he cracked the sidewalk when falling.
  10. Clean the Bathroom. Check.
  11. Check, check, check.



Marys are "people oriented" and are more likely to be found "sitting and listening." (Luke 10: 39-40)
They tend to view life through the "relationships to be nurtured" lens:

  • Get the kids ready for school - they may wear whatever they want - childhood is short!
  • Why make the beds? We'll just get back into them later anyway. Blow raspberries on baby's tummy instead.
  • The dishes will still be there when I get to them, take a phone call and listen patiently to a friend vent her frustrations for an hour. Pray for friend.
  • Why put the toys away now? The babies are still playing with them. Put on music and dance around the living room instead.
  • Read to the children.
  • Put in a load of laundry.
  • Stop to kiss a booboo. Encourage child to cry it all out as you stroke her hair.
  • Make note to self: hire someone to clean the bathroom!

Of course I am exaggerating to make a point! I am not unilaterally saying that Marthas lack compassion or that Marys struggle with self-discipline (even though we all know, if we choose to admit it, that this can be somewhat true) These are the things that make us uncomfortable about ourselves. I am simply showing that we are different. And it is Ok because

Both types of women are created by God and hold equal value in His sight.


Unfortunately, some of us spend a lot of time wishing that we were more like the other type, wishing that we put relationships first like Marys, or were more organized like Marthas!

Comparison is the Enemy of Contentment.

Sometimes we like the way WE are so much that we look down on those who are not like us, judging them for not being better listeners, or for having disorderly homes. So we have little Mary/Martha wars instead of ministering grace to each other as sisters in Christ.

Or not so little wars.
Occasionally they turn into the Heavyweight Championships I was talking about.

Marthas get hot-and-bothered because they get stuck with all of the work. It just rubs her the wrong way that Mary just sits there and expects her to do it as if Mary has no part in it.

Mary figures that Martha likes work and does it so well, it just frees her up to nurture relationships.

Most of the time I feel like these troubles are truly unintentional. Usually the result of misunderstanding and accepting our differences.

Yet it shows up in the comments on blogs:

A Martha will write an article on something like organization, listing all of the things she is able to accomplish each day by following a schedule. Perhaps she posts pictures on Pinterest of the marvelous craft that she made from scratch. A Mary will read it and become defensive, feeling judged because her life is not a list of accomplishments, so she will comment to the Martha that she is neglecting her family because she cares too much about what she must accomplish each day.

A Mary will write about the super fun (and probably messy) afternoon that she had with her kids, encouraging other mothers to build similar great memories. A Martha will read it and feel guilty that she does not do enough of those things with her kids. She feels even worse that she does not WANT to do messy things, even if they are fun.

This is where understanding that both types of women are created by God and hold equal value in His sight comes in handy.
When we accept the fact that my way is not better or worse - it is equal, it's so much less difficult to minister grace to another sister in Christ. To see her value and even to learn from her!

Yes, that's what I said. To learn from someone who is so different.

Just now this makes me think of a passage I read the other day in Ephesians chapter 2 (after the verse that says we are not saved by our accomplishments because we would be proud) This passage refers to the rift between the Jews and Gentiles before the cross made it possible to erase that line, but I felt that I should share it here as an example of how God views our Mary and Martha differences in light of the cross:

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He, Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace...For through Him we both have access to to the Father by one Spirit...In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (from Ephesians 2:13-22)


  When my husband and I were in Bible college, we took a "personality test" to determine our strengths and weaknesses. I remember the teacher telling us that most people have a combination of personality types, with one usually outstanding. All of them have positives and negatives.
"Jesus Christ was the only one who had a perfect balance of all of the personalities," he said. "Of course Jesus was sinless, so he only had the positive side of each one. The rest of us are always struggling against the negatives and trying to find a balance."

Do I believe that it is possible for a Mary to become better at managing her home? Or for a Martha to make the people around her feel more loved? Yes I do! Because the God who commands us to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control  (Galatians 5:22-23) - - is the same God who says that He will "equip us to do every good work."(Hebrews 13:21)

My friend Rosemary is a Mary and she claims it. She might tell you that she has several "junk" drawers or that she wishes that she had more organization, but her home always seems orderly. Calm. Peaceful. She has managed to balance the work with the relationships.

My Grandma Brush is the most amazing person I know. After many years of walking with the Lord, she is so balanced that I found it difficult to classify her. One day as I spoke with her on the phone, I mentioned something about my lists and things and she said that she is a Martha just like me! She gets a lot accomplished each day - yet she always has time to love people. Everyone around her loves her in return.

The idea of learning from each other has special value when you think of the parent/child relationship. It is one thing to simply know another woman with whom you do not relate, but when you live in the same home, it becomes especially hard.

I am a Martha, but a couple of my children are Marys. I am always caught in the struggle of both allowing them to be who God created them to be, and teaching them how to care for themselves and their homes - something that needs to be done whether they enjoy it or not.
This was the only perspective that I had on the difficulties of this kind of parent/child relationship until a speaker at MOPS said something about mothers who are the Mary-type personality with children who are more like Marthas and how they drive each other crazy in similar ways, but with the roles reversed. The child tends to take on the role of "caretaker" because this comes naturally to them. Oftentimes when the mother sees this in the child, she is relieved that someone knows how to do this in the home, and allows (even begins to expect) this level of responsibility from the child.

It is important to understand that this is not a BAD thing! It shows that she recognizes the strengths that her child has. It can also build self-esteem in the child because they understand that they have a firm "place" in the family and they gain confidence in their abilities.

It is only a problem when the parent puts TOO MUCH of the caretaking responsibilities on the child, forcing them to "grow up" too quickly.

The Martha/mother Mary/child can also be a problem if the Mother is too rigid about chores, and does not allow the child the freedom to be creative and nurturing. A people-oriented child can wilt when their list of things to do is too heavy on the "to be done alone" side and they don't get to interact with people.

To have a great balance in the home, as a mother look for the strengths in your children and plug them in to tasks best suited to them. Of course you should teach them to have a complete set of skills, but use them in the areas where they can shine as much as possible!

Once we begin to see that we are God's valued creation, specifically designed to accomplish ALL of his purposes, and when we see others not as opponents, but with the same value, the competition will end and we will work like a fantastic team for the kingdom of God.

Go Marys!

Go Marthas!




Sue said...

Yeah! Both Marys and Marthas are okay!

Visiting from

Gail Purath said...

What a fun post but also lots of good encouragement and exhortation. I love your fitting. I'm a Martha with a Mary daughter and I've learned that the very things that are our strengths are also our weaknesses. Thanks for sharing. May we all rejoice in the things that come easily for us and ask God for help with the things that don't. Thanks for linking up to B&BB. I pray God will bless your writing and your life in special ways this week. Bless you, Gail

Nicole said...

That's a great look at the Mary/Martha personalities! Makes me think a lot about what type I would be- more Martha I believe. Thank you for linking up to Workin' It Mondays- it's a blessing to me!

Working Kansas Homemaker

Annmarie Pipa said...

what a great perspective! I sometimes go extreme...Martha when preparing for something when everything has to be perfect then Friday night when i don't want to do a thing!!!
I am your nest follower..pls follow back if you can.

joyfully2b4u said...

this is one of your best posts (at least best in the line of those that have been most helpful to me--not so much in the line of not making comparisons but in the way of understanding the differences even better--I appreciate your practical suggestions for making the best use of the differences, too)

Love you!

Confessions of a Martha said...

A comment in an old post got me thinking that this is a concept that is little understood among women and I felt the Lord telling me what I need to say on the topic. It took weeks and weeks to write this one, but I felt that, as I thought and prayed on the subject, I kept learning more. Thanks for taking the time to read such a long post on this improtant topic!

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