Don’t Bring Dirty Dishes to the Table

by Christine Casillas 23 July 2021

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 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!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:38-42

Martha was distracted with all the other things going on, instead of taking the moment to put those other things down and come enjoy her guest.

I often wonder what she did after being chastened by Jesus. Did she go sit with him? Did she continue with the “many things”? Did she open herself up later to other pieces of wisdom? Each time I hear the story of Martha and Mary, I cringe. This is probably because I see myself more as Martha than I would like to admit: those “many things” are my emotions.

I used to believe my emotions were unruly geysers of energy and they would become my focus. The vision God had shown to me of my life would become obscured. I often felt frustrated at my seeming inability to manage them like other people seemed to be able to do with ease.

I judged myself harshly and developed strategies to avoid my inner turmoil. I built walls to keep myself protected from perceived harm. What that eventually did is cut me off from connecting with others effectively or in a meaningful way. I felt lonely and alone. I was not living the life God would have me live.

Over the last decade, I have been making a conscious effort to gather different tools to find balance in my emotions. An early piece of wisdom that has continued to have impact on me is to name the emotion I am feeling to myself before even considering how to respond. I keep it simple and easy to implement by narrowing it down to three choices – I feel mad/sad/glad.

Being able to stop to note what it is that I am feeling even in the simplest of terms starts a new cycle that prevents my emotions from devolving into chaos while also gently maintaining an open channel to the movement of the Holy Spirit within and through me. “Name the Feeling” is part of the beginning of feeling firmer in my footing and more open to the blessings that can come in any situation.

I have been given another piece of wisdom recently. I am listening to Pema Chodron’s book “Coming Closer to Ourselves: Making Everything the Path of Awakening” on Audible. In it she gave an example of how to “stay” in the moment. Here is how I understand the concept.

To get away from overthinking about our performance in any situation, we must learn how to keep our focus in the moment, to say “stay” to ourselves as if we are training a new puppy. If it is said in an angry voice – STAY! – it will get attention immediately, but that unkind treatment of ourselves can bleed into our relationships with others. If we use “stay” with ourselves in a loving, calm, gentle, patient way – almost like rocking a sweet baby to sleep – we can influence the impact of the moment toward a much deeper connection with our spirituality. Those who meditate with mantras will recognize this technique.

The tools of “Name the Feeling” and “Stay” have come into play in my life just now.

My family has hurt me in deep ways in the past. I have worked hard to bring down my walls and become more open to the process of forgiveness, but I am not always on point. This past weekend, my daughter got engaged and let me know via text message. Even though I was happy for her, all the other emotional baggage associated with the news, however remotely connected, started popping up like an insane bag of popcorn; my heart and mind became inundated with potentially spiteful, selfish responses to send back. I did not immediately hit send on the text message. I paused.

With Pema’s teaching in mind, I started talking to myself: stay. Stay here. Stay here in this moment. Those other moments have not gone away, but they are not welcomed here right now. They can be dealt with later. I feel glad and excited for my daughter. I feel elated she chose to share her joyful news with me. Stay. Stay.

If this was to be put in metaphorical terms, this is how I imagine how the whole scene played out. My daughter made a gorgeous dinner. She has put time and effort into the results. She has invited me to her banquet. Among the many options for an answer, I can point out the mess she made in the rest of the kitchen to make the dinner and how we cannot possibly eat dinner until we wash the dirty dishes. Or I can stay in this one moment with her and enjoy the feast of joy.

I was able to choose not to bring the dirty dishes to the table. I was able to get my Martha to put those “many things” down and become more of the Mary that delights in the blessings of the moment.

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