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12.2007 Mary, Martha, and Me: Seeking for the One Needful Thing


Mary, Martha, and Me: Seeking for the One Needful Thing

By Camille Fronk Olson

When someone says, “She is a Martha-type,” we know just what that means: a woman who is practical, competent, down-to-earth. We understand that Marthas are certainly useful and necessary, but it’s usually Mary that gets the halo. Author Camille Fronk Olson brings unique insights and perspectives to the biblical story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, who serve Jesus in different ways. Exploring the mixed messages in daily life, she discusses the motives and focus that determine our choices and the problem of comparing our gifts and contributions to others. In her warm, engaging style, the author brings to light the lessons Mary and Martha learn from each other and the “one thing [that] is needful” for both.

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • davidson December 2, 2007, 3:04 pm

    Hugs to you.

    Guess I’m going to start that way, because I’m well aware that my comments aren’t going to be loved by everyone who reads this. And yet I feel compelled to say it.

    Mary, Martha, and Me came in the mail yesterday morning. Because I’ve been lying on the bed or the couch for a full week being horrendously sick, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to read it. I also had the conference issue of the Ensign on the bed beside me, and I had been prompted for the last four days to reread Elder Oaks’ talk about Good, Better, and Best–but to tell you the truth, I was anxious to read Mary, Martha, and Me, because it came so highly recommended from so many. I read that first. I read the book in the afternoon, then started to reread it, writing down quotes that impressed me.

    I came to page 53 and the quote that said, “Because we can easily detect differences between Mary’s and Martha’s approaches to service, we may unwittingly introduce the unwarranted “better” to the account, exacerbated by a tendency to label one activity good and the other one bad. What is better for one, however, is not always better for another.” I jotted that down in my notebook, but it made me feel uneasy. I wrote a sentence behind the quote, a direction to myself: “Reread Elder Oaks’ talk to see if this coincides with what he said.” I really couldn’t remember. But still I didn’t take the time to read Elder Oaks’ talk. I went to bed instead.

    This morning I woke up still too sick to go to Church, so I thought it was a good time to get to the Ensign with the conference reports. I reread Elder Oaks’ talk “Good, Better, and Best.” His third paragraph in that talk, unfortunately, refutes and corrects the whole premise of Camille Fronk Olson’s book, which surprised me. He said, “Jesus taught the principle (of good and better) in the home of Mary and Martha. While she was “cumbered about much serving”, her sister Mary ‘sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.’ When Martha complained that her sister had left her to serve alone,
    Jesus commended Martha for what she was doing but taught her that ‘one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’ It was praiseworthy for Martha to be ‘careful and troubled about many things’, but learning the gospel from the Master Teacher was more ‘needful.’ The scriptures contain other teachings that some things are more blessed than others.”

    In other words, in that instance, Mary’s choice was indeed better than Martha’s. That didn’t mean Mary was better than Martha, but it does mean our choices can be (and are) compared and qualified. It doesn’t mean that sometimes Martha didn’t make better choices than Mary. I guess that’s not important. It doesn’t matter who is right, but what is right.

    Camille Fronk Olson thinks the one needful thing in that story was Jesus Christ. Elder Oaks says the one needful thing in that story was to sit down and listen to the teachings of the Master, rather than being “careful and troubled about many things,” the very comparison Camille was trying to avoid. HE said Mary’s response was better. If I have to choose which one of them to believe, I prayerfully choose Elder Oaks.

    I wonder if Elder Oaks read Mary, Martha, and Me? I wondered if his comments were in response to the premise of her book, which has been so widely publicized among LDS people?

    To me, that is the danger with an LDS bookstore. Anyone is allowed to publish their opinions, and LDS people walk in, buy, read, and swallow whole, without checking to see if what they are swallowing is in line with current teachings of the brethren. I’m sure Sister Olson meant well. I thought her book was thoughtful and well-written. She just came to the wrong conclusion. I wonder what she thought when she heard Elder Oaks’ talk? Did she take the correction humbly? Did she pray to get an affirmation about what he said? None of my business, I guess, but it would be interesting to know her response.

  • SilverRain December 2, 2007, 3:40 pm

    That’s a pretty big logical leap from “maybe Elder Oaks spoke in response to this book” to “did she take the correction humbly”. Just because Elder Oaks spoke on a topic similar to the topic of this book does not mean it was a response. Just because Elder Oaks sees the story one way doesn’t make it the one right way to see the story. That’s the beautiful thing about the scriptures. They can say multiple things at different times to different people.

    Sometimes people forget that if it weren’t for people like Martha, the Marys of the world would die early of starvation and would never have a chance to hear the word of the Lord. :wink:

    Sometimes it is better to sit and listen and sometimes it is better to do the work so someone else has the opportunity to sit and listen. Elder Oaks’ take on the story does not negate Sister Olson’s.

  • davidson December 2, 2007, 7:16 pm

    I chalk it up to the fact that Mary didn’t have a super-size crockpot!

    I can always count on you, Silver. You keep me on my toes. My calves get a little tired, but that’s okay. :bigsmile: I am willing to sacrifice the fatted calves to be your friend.

    What would have been wrong with Mary and Martha sitting at the Savior’s feet to listen, then working together to make a simple meal afterward? Even Jesus recognized the need to eat, which need he took care of after the truly important needs were fed, as illustrated in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Sister Olson makes quite a point of saying that no woman in the Church is only a Mary or only a Martha. I bet even Mary took her turn making meals, and even Martha was occasionally late to make a meal in order to study an important truth. I like to hope that about them. I assume they were Jesus’ close friends because they were like him in many ways, and he trusted them to be faithful.

    I assume Elder Oaks is right in this matter because he was a representative of the Lord speaking in General conference.
    :wink: His idea opposes Sister Olson’s idea. “They can’t both be right. . .”

    I agree with you that sometimes it is better to sit and listen and sometimes it is better to do the work so someone else has the opportunity to sit and listen. Nursery leaders, consider your foreheads officially kissed! :kiss: The ONLY reason I think Mary’s way was better is because Jesus said so, and Elder Oaks said so.

  • Rachel December 2, 2007, 7:29 pm

    I am going to disagree with you, too, davidson. I don’t necessarily think that Elder Oaks was speaking in response to this book. I think, as Silver said, it’s all right to interpret stories in the scriptures different ways for different circumstances. I do think that at times it is better to stop what you are doing (and not just change your attitude about how you are serving, as Olson emphasizes) and listen and learn from the Savior.

    On the other hand, I really love the point she makes in the book about that it isn’t necessarily how she was serving but how she was complaining about Mary’s choice not to help with preparations that prompted the Savior’s rebuke. I found the quote from Catherine Corman Parry on page 59 very interesting: “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 . . . .”

    This may not be how one person interprets the scriptures in relation to their own circumstances (even if she was in the wrong to prepare the food, etc, I think He wouldn’t have forced her to come listen), but it sure gave me something to think about. How many times have I thought privately that someone’s choice not to prepare a lesson in the same way I would was lack of care for the service they “should have” been giving? I’m guilty of the same thing, I think. I am quite often cumbered much about serving, and as I lose the right attitude I should have about serving, I condemn others who don’t seem as busy as I am in “serving the Lord” (which really is sometimes anything but).

    I also love earlier in Catherine Corman Parry’s quote at the top of page 59: “Why, oh, why couldn’t the Lord have said, ‘You’re absolutely right, Martha. What are we thinking of to let you do all this work alone? We’ll all help, and by the way, that centerpiece looks lovely’?'” How often I wished that the answer to my prayers of complaint would have been like this! “Sure, Rachel, you’re right, and here’s a pat on the back for trying so hard and going through so much.” The whole idea she took from the parable of the unprofitable servant and Elder John K Carmack’s analysis of it (pg. 39-40), that we will always be servants to the Lord, that we will always be in debt even after we do all we can, really struck a cord with me in answer to this. I have heard this before, but to have it worded and illustrated in this way made it much clearer to me.

    I think it’s also important to note the point that Martha may have chosen “to welcome the Savior into her home with the greatest display of hospitality . . . [b]ut . . . quickly discovered that her plan required more than she had the ability to produce.” The idea is that if she had simplified she would have kept a more peaceful feeling in the home as the Savior taught–and maybe she would have had a chance to stop and listen for a few minutes! I love to entertain, and I like everything to be the very best when I do it, even for a guests much less worthy than the Savior. I have learned to do as much as I can ahead of time, or just prepare something that doesn’t take too much of my attention from enjoying those I’m hosting. But I could just as easily have fallen into the trap of feeling the need to do the very best for Him, so I empathise to a degree. The key here is that the Lord was pointing to “the one needful thing,” and whatever you interpret that to be, it is easy to deduce that He meant Martha needed to simplify her preparations, whether it be not preparing anything, to just making something that took less stress and care.

    And I do think that she dwelt on the point that Mary did choose “that good part.” That Martha was rebuked, and Mary was praised. I was starting to feel so justified in my choice to do and be busy, rather than study and ponder constantly as I read the first chapter, but I was humbled as I realized that even with the best intentions in bustling about serving, it generally is better to be still and learn from the Savior, as illustrated in Chapter 5.

    I’m interested to read the conclusion and see what other gems I can take from this analysis of this story.

    Anyway, davidson, I’m sorry you’re sick (I am, too, this weekend, and also had to come home from meetings today), and wish you a speedy recovery. It is nice to have some down time to do some reading, though, right? :wink: (Or maybe that’s just me–with two little ones, I rarely have quiet time in my house.)

  • Rachel December 2, 2007, 7:31 pm

    Whoops! You posted while I was writing. Please kindly disregard any contradictions, etc, in my post!

  • mlinford December 2, 2007, 9:29 pm

    That mentioning of Mary and Martha got my brain working, because of this book, but also because of other instances where I have heard the story interpreted similarly to Sister Olson. I think her book is so awesome because she points us to Christ. Period. She reminds us that we all can look to Him, regardless of what specifically we are doing at the moment. Elder Oaks used this story to illustrate his point, and his talk was truly one of of the ones that most struck me and motivated me to change.

    But we can’t take that story to an extreme, because even Elder Oaks has recognized that it has different meanings, including that we should not judge or criticize.

    And I love love love this by Sister Parkin!

    Like Mary, I hunger to feast at the Savior ?s feet, while, like Martha, I need to somehow find the laundry room floor, empty my in-box, and serve my husband something other than cold pizza. I have 15 grandchildren whose tender little spirits and daily challenges I want to better understand, yet I also have a slightly demanding Church calling! I don ?t have lots of time. Like all of you, I have to choose. We all are trying to choose the good part which cannot be taken from us, to balance the spiritual and the temporal in our lives. Wouldn ?t it be easy if we were choosing between visiting teaching or robbing a bank? Instead, our choices are often more subtle. We must choose between many worthy options.

    Mary and Martha are you and me; they are every sister in Relief Society. These two loved the Lord and wanted to show that love. On this occasion, it seems to me that Mary expressed her love by hearing His word, while Martha expressed hers by serving Him.

    Martha thought she was doing right and that her sister should be helping her.

    I don ?t believe the Lord was saying there are Marthas and there are Marys. Jesus did not dismiss Martha ?s concern, but instead redirected her focus by saying choose that good part. ? And what is that? The prophet Lehi taught that we should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit. ? 9

    The one thing that is needful is to choose eternal life. We choose daily. As we seek, listen, and follow the Lord, we are encircled in the arms of His love a love that is pure….
    The story of Mary and Martha also illustrates how the gift of charity can be diminished. Within Martha ?s request for assistance was an unspoken but clear judgment: I am right; she is wrong. ?…
    Do we judge one another? Do we criticize each other for individual choices, thinking we know better, when in fact we rarely understand another ?s unique circumstance or individual inspiration? Have we ever said, She works outside the home. ? Or, Her son didn ?t serve a mission. ? Or, She ?s too old for a calling. ? Or, She can ?t she ?s single. ? Such judgments, and so many others like them, rob us of the good part, that pure love of Christ.

    We also lose sight of that good part when we compare ourselves to others. Her hair is cuter, my legs are fatter, her children are more talented, or her garden ?s more productive sisters, you know the drill. We just can ?t do that. We cannot allow ourselves to feel inadequate by focusing on who we aren ?t instead of on who we are! We are all sisters in Relief Society. We simply cannot criticize, gossip, or judge and keep the pure love of Christ. Can ?t you hear the Lord ?s sweet injunction: Martha, Martha ? ? ?…
    As seemed the case with Martha, one of the first things to go when I become cumbered about and troubled is my charitable attitude. Is this true for you?

    I ?ve learned that the best way to reclaim charity is to uncumber myself and simply love and serve the Lord. How do we do that? We start each day kneeling in prayer to our Father in Heaven, we hear His words through daily scripture study, and we follow the guidance we receive. We put Christ first, restoring charity ?s circular love. We love him, because he first loved us. ? 16 This is the reciprocating cycle of charity. Sisters, charity never faileth. ?

  • marijessup December 2, 2007, 9:34 pm

    Where was Sister Parkins speech? I would love to be able to just re-read it time and again….I haven’t quite made it thru the Conference Ensign, so be patient… :)

  • Alison Moore Smith December 2, 2007, 9:42 pm

    I’m still waiting for my book, but from the snippets here, I think I’d have to agree with davidson on what I think is her main contention. Olsen said that declaring one action better was “unwarranted.” Oaks said one was better. Isn’t that the issue? If so, what’s to debate.

    OK, my cursory reading will probably be my downfall. Flame me now.

  • mlinford December 2, 2007, 10:29 pm

    Sorry, thought I included the link to Sister Parkin’s talk. Here it is.

    I don’t have my book in front of me, but I recall Sister Olson first getting rid of the common misunderstanding that the text said that Mary chose the better part. It doesn’t say that. She also develops the characters and shows, from the scriptures, how Martha was also a devoted disciple (even if she goofed, either because she judged or, through Elder Oaks’ talk’s eyes, she didn’t choose to sit at the Master’s feet). And she shows how we can all choose ‘that good part’ whether we are in the moment doing Martha-like stuff or Mary-like stuff. Does Elder Oaks think we should never be cleaning and serving and cooking? I doubt it.

    I think the reaction to what davidson said is that yes, Elder Oaks said that if we have the choice to sit at the feet of the Master (for us, that might be feast at Conference, or attend the temple, or do our daily scripture study, or attend that Saturday night meeting of Stake Conference when we’d “rather” get our house clean…fill in the gap with your favorite spiritual feast activity) or to be doing stuff around the house, or running errands, or whatever else might be good, we should stop and think about our priorities. We shouldn’t choose good over best.

    But I think it’s also meaningful to take a step back and hear what Sister Olson is saying, not in contradiction to what Elder Oaks teaches, but in perhaps a different context of the principles she is trying to teach. OK, so maybe she shouldn’t have said we should never compare the two women. But she still has a lot of good to offer, imo. We simply can’t argue that it will always be better to be feeding our spirits, because then we might be ignoring our homemaking and other things that also have their spiritual dimension (a la Sister Beck). I like the way Sister Olson brings perspective to our lives and helps us focus on the Savior in ALL that we do. I think Sister Beck helped elevate the ‘mundane’ to a more spiritual plane as well.

    That said, like I said, Elder Oaks’ teaching is so important. Like I said, it’s one of the talks that hit me hardest. I think that when we are trying to work through priorities as he told us we should, we should always make sure that our time and energy doesn’t choose just good stuff at the expense of the best. Note that he never says we can never do good or fun stuff. It’s about balance and priorities, not about one side or the other of a seesaw (which, again, to me is what Sister Olson develops).

    One of the things I have started thinking about as a result of his talk and this specific part of the talk is how often I’m puttering around the house, doing this or doing that, cooking in the kitchen or whatever else, while my kids are playing with their dad. Elder Oaks said:

    “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.”

    Do all my efforts around the house do these two things? Probably not always. And a little good recreation is not a bad thing. But are there ways I can simplify and focus more so that more of my time each day is spent building faith or family relationships? Are there ways to maximize my time so that more time is spent on what matters most?

    My husband and I have talked lots lately about how, often in order to get everything done, we have to multitask. If we get creative, we can sometimes accomplish two things at once. So, I have to clean, but I can put Conference on in the background, or good music, or chat on the phone with a good friend about the gospel — thus feed my faith while I’m doing mundane stuff.

    Or say hubby has to go into work on a Saturday. Rather than just leaving, he takes a child or two to build family relationships while he’s getting that necessary thing done. Sister Beck helped me remember that as I do housework, I can be involving and teaching and delegating more to my children so that housework takes on an added dimension of building a relationship with my children and even allowing me to talk and teach and build faith, perhaps, as we interact.

    Again, I think we can take the best of both of the teachings…of course, Elder Oaks should take priority, but I found a great deal of benefit and spiritual uplift from Sister Olson’s perspectives as well. I just would prefer to find the good and truth that is there from both of them, rather than dismiss the whole book because she is trying to look at the story in a different way. Rather than get too caught up in the story itself, I like to see what true and good principles they are both teaching and seek to apply them in my life. I find that often it will appear that two things contradict when in reality, there may be different ways of looking at them…many facets of life can be understood through one story, no?

    And, again, note that Elder Oaks quoted someone who took a totally different approach:

    Those of us with more of Martha than of Mary in us . . . do not doubt the overriding importance of listening to the Lord, [but] does the listening have to be done during dinner preparations? Would it have hurt Mary to have joined us in serving, then we all could have sat down to hear the Lord together? And furthermore, what about the value of our work in the world? If it weren’t for us Marthas cleaning whatever we see and fussing over meals, there would be a lot of dirty, hungry people in this world. We may not live by bread alone, but I’ve never known anyone to live without it. Why, oh, why couldn’t the Lord have said, “You’re absolutely right, Martha. What are we thinking of to let you do all this work alone? We’ll all help, and by the way, that centerpiece looks lovely”?

    What he did say is difficult to bear, but perhaps somewhat less difficult if we examine its context. . . . The Lord acknowledges Martha’s care: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” (v. 41). Then he delivers the gentle but clear rebuke. But the rebuke would not have come had Martha not prompted it. 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: “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me” (v. 40). Martha’s self-importance, expressed through her judgment of her sister, occasioned the Lord’s rebuke, not her busyness with the meal. [Catherine Corman Parry, “‘Simon, I Have Somewhat to Say unto Thee': Judgment and Condemnation in the Parables of Jesus,” Brigham Young University 1990­91 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [Provo: BYU, 1991], p. 116]

    I wonder if he now just feels differently about the story altogether, or if in this most recent talk, he saw that the principle he was seeking to teach was there, so he focused on that as well.

    I dunno…I just like it all, so I look at the story in different ways, depending on the principles I am pondering. :)

  • mlinford December 2, 2007, 10:30 pm

    Ah, longwindedness. Don’tcha love it?

  • SilverRain December 3, 2007, 4:26 am

    And that was my point – that some people may need to hear one aspect to the story when other people may need to hear the other. So much in the gospel is about balance, not about black-and-white, the One Right Way. That is partially why it’s so easy to find “conflicting” scriptures when Bible bashing.

    Again, as I was trying to say in another thread, when you see the scriptures through the lens of His love, suddenly everything becomes more clear. All commandments have to be done in the context of the first two – to love God and love your neighbor. If you are keeping a commandment at the expense of either of these two, you are not truly keeping it.

  • mlinford December 3, 2007, 10:19 pm

    btw, davidson, I hope you don’t feel lambasted. I felt a bit confused at first when Elder Oaks said that, especially since I had fresh in my mind this book, and those two talks (that I pondered while first reading this book). I felt I had always misunderstood that story, and then Elder Oaks brought in the perspective he did, so I had to go back and think about it a bit, but this is where I am — because I felt there was good in all that has been said, so my approach is to take them all in their contexts. But a different approach to this book may click for you, and you gotta go with what works for you. :)

  • spande2 December 4, 2007, 7:42 am

    Does anyone have a link to Catherine Corman Parry’s entire speech?

  • Alison Moore Smith December 15, 2007, 11:39 am

    Finally got my copy and I’m in chapter two. I have to say that, so far, I agree with davidson.

    At this point in the book, I’m actually confused about what her point is. It seems that she’d trying to defend Martha (and her grandma) because they were just serving within their own sphere of talents.

    Frankly, I don’t think–and never have–that this gospel study vs. active service conflict that it seems she’s trying to set up has anything at all to do with the story of Mary and Martha. To me the story has always been much more along the lines of Covey’s book The Divine Center.

    To me Mary did (as Elder Oaks did say) the BETTER thing, NOT because listening to gospel teaching is BETTER than feeding hungry people, but because in the CONTEXT of the story and because of the actual CIRCUMSTANCE–with Christ himself teaching salvation issues–listening to him at that time WAS the ONE needful thing.

    That idea doesn’t prohibit one from EVER scurrying about to feed their family or to serve those in need or to clean the house. That doesn’t mean those things won’t EVER have an appropriate time. But THAT wasn’t the time for Martha.

    To me, this story has never been about one particular activity being more sanctified than another, nor has it been about some level of balance in activities. It has been about being in tune with the spirit so that we could tell, at any given time, what God would have us do, RIGHT THEN, given all the variables in life.

  • SilverRain December 15, 2007, 11:48 am

    More to the point, THAT wasn’t the time for Mary. Maybe it was the time for Martha. Christ didn’t rebuke her choice to actively serve vs. listen. He rebuked her telling Mary how she should have chosen.

  • momof2 December 15, 2007, 12:45 pm

    Posted By: SilverRainHe rebuked her telling Mary how she should have chosen.

    You know, there’s a lot to think about in that statement. How often do we make judgments about another person’s choices in life? And we do it not knowing what thought and prayer has gone into that decision. That’s true not just on hot button issues like children and marriage, but jobs, callings, even how many children we fit into one bedroom. Each of us has learned things from our own life experiences that gives us a perspective on many situations, and we form our opinions based on those experiences. But what we have is only one perspective. We need to be careful to remember that, because we can never know for sure just what perspective another person has that might shred one of our opinions. We get to experience those different perspectives here on Mormon Momma, where we each have a different experience/viewpoint to contribute to any given topic, something which enlightens us all.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 16, 2007, 8:43 pm

    Yes, I think it could be read that way, but Elder Oaks is proposing that Martha would have chosen better to choose as Mary did in that particular instance.

    In Chapter Two, Olson is giving a “Biblical setting” for the story. She tells the story of Lazarus at some length. The point, it seems, is to simply point out that “the sister’s statements of confidence in the Savior’s power were identical.”

    To me, it seems she’s trying to say, “See, Martha is just as righteous as Mary!” If that’s the case, again, I’m a bit confused. Did any or you, upon hearing/reading the story of Mary and Martha ever take it to mean that Christ thought Mary was, generally speaking, more righteous than Martha?

  • mlinford December 17, 2007, 12:52 pm

    but Elder Oaks is proposing that Martha would have chosen better to choose as Mary did in that particular instance.

    OK, seesters, I want to ask something. Does it really matter to debate who was ‘better’ in that particular instance? In my mind, it’s a bit irrelevant in the specific because what matters is how to apply what Elder Oaks taught, and his talk was anything but binary like that story is. The story illustrates a principle, but the principle has little to do with Mary vs. Martha per se.

    So, OK, let’s assume that Mary really did choose better in that instance. Let’s assume that Sister Olsen goofed by trying to debunk that popular interpretation (and misquoting of the scripture…it never says better and many people have directly misquoted it as such). But now it sounds like Elder Oaks has interpreted this particular story to say that Mary’s choice was better. Okey dokey.

    And maybe Sister Olsen is wrong in trying to show how Martha was also righteous, but I sort of think, so what? I think that as the book develops, you might see why she does this. I think she is trying to help any of us, regardless of where we might fall on the Mary-Martha continuum (if there is such a thing), to figure out how we can better turn our lives over to Christ, how we can focus on that needful thing. It seems to me that we might miss some good ideas in her book if we pick apart this particular aspect of it.

    I think women often have a way of pigeonholing themselves and others. We often fixate on differences and compare. We see others’ strengths and want ours validated. We DO each have different gifts and talents. We probably each can put ourselves somewhere on the continuum between Mary and Martha. But in the end, life is not binary, and we are not one or the other, and each day is a complicated mix of choices and priorities that this story cannot address alone.

    So, let’s’ take what Elder Oaks points out from this story: not all choices are equal. Do any of us disagree with that principle? I see Sister Olsen developing lots of the Mary vs. Martha approaches, and fleshing out different ways, depending on different personalities and tendencies and situations, we might consider how we could better choose that One Needful Thing.

    One last thing. I think she is looking to Mary and Martha as whole people, and helping us learn lessons from them as whole people, not just from this story. You will see her develop the characters throughout the book, and take lessons from them — for example, with the story of the raising of Lazarus and waiting on the Lord. Again, I really think that fixating too much on Sister Olsen vs. Elder Oaks is really unnecessary. You can even disagree with her assumptions about that story, but I would invite readers to keep an open mind on what does ring true, because I think there is some good stuff in there.

    I’m skimming it over again to see if I still feel positively about this like I did the first time I read it. I’ll let you know if I’ve changed my mind, but at this point, I’m a little saddened that the book is being picked apart for what seems to me kind of unnecessary reasons in the end, considering the big picture of what she is trying to teach.

    For example, I loved this, close to the end of the book:

    “Setting priorities is not a problem of time; we each have exactly the same amount allotted each day. With increasing opportunities to learn and to servea nd so many good causes that would benefit from our help, we will always have more on our daily list that we can accomplish.” [Compare that with Elder Oaks: "Most of us have more things expected of us than we can possibly do. "]

    Sister Olsen continues:
    “When God comes first in our lives, whatever comes second will likely change tomorrow. Furthermore, whatever comes second for me will likely be different for you. When God comes first in our lives, however, whatever comes second will always be right…. Putting God first supplies direction to our question for balance, for finding the One Needful Thing whose gifts cannot be taken from us.”

    This has stuck with me in a profound way. I think what Sister Olsen develops in this book is that our lives really aren’t clear-cut. It’s a rare situation where we have two choices, and one is clearly better. And so, her point throughout the book is to develop Mary and Martha as people, to use them as types of the different types of personalities and talent sets that we have, and to show how each of us, regardless of our specifics, might consider how we can better put the Lord first. To me, that is worthwhile and very applicable to what Elder Oaks was teaching. I don’t think we have to pit the two speakers as against each other, because their end purpose seems the same to me.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 18, 2007, 1:47 am

    Posted By: mlinfordDoes it really matter to debate who was ‘better’in that particular instance? In my mind, it’s a bit irrelevant in the specific because what matters ishow to applywhat Elder Oaks taught, and his talk was anything but binary like that story is.

    It’s relevant because we are NOT discussing how to apply what Elder Oaks taught, we’re discussing the book.

    I think she is trying to help any of us, regardless of where we might fall on the Mary-Martha continuum (if there is such a thing), to figure out how we can better turn our lives over to Christ, how we can focus on that needful thing.

    Problem is, I don’t even see what the Mary-Martha continuum is supposed to BE in the context of the scripture–unless it’s that in one particular instance Mary chose a better thing that Martha–but Olson denies this. Any other continuum that we’re supposed to see ourselves on (work vs. study; good vs. bad), don’t seem, to me, to be part of the story at all. So trying to “prove” them with the story, doesn’t hold up very well.

    It seems to me that we might miss some good ideas in her book if we pick apart this particular aspect of it.

    We might. I don’t intend to dwell on this one issue, but so far in my reading I keep hitting the wall that her entire POINT is to refute the thing Elder Oaks claimed.

    I think women often have a way of pigeonholing themselves and others.

    Yes, sometimes we do. But actually, in this case I think Olson did just that! I don’t think Martha’s mistake on this issue, on this day, must, necessarily EXTEND to mean something about her whole life. Sincerely, I don’t think the idea the Savior was trying to teach had anything to do with Martha being generally less righteous or homemaking being less important than listening to conference talks.

    FWIW, I don’t think “picking apart” a book is a bad thing in the context of a book club–particularly when it’s the underlying premise of the book. And I don’t think it will keep us from noting valuable points. I think we’ll be better able to discern what those are if we can see possible problems or conflict with authoritative sources.

    If Elder Oaks says that Mary’s choice WAS better, it’s central to the discussion of how to apply the information appropriately.

  • Alison Moore Smith December 18, 2007, 1:55 am

    Here are some good questions presented:

    When does charitable service metamorphose into cumbering service?

    What is wrong with being cumbered about much srvice?

  • mlinford December 18, 2007, 1:01 pm

    Just give it a chance, Alison. That’s all I’m saying. I think at the core, Sister Olson’s book gets to the principles Elder Oaks was teaching. If we are concerned about her contradicting Elder Oaks, then let’s at least take a step back and see whether she does that with the spirit of the principles. I’m not against analyzing a book, I just think it’s a bit premature to do so on this front until more of the book is read, because in the end, I think the core message is very supportive and complementary to Elder Oaks.

    I also think we can’t really hold this book to the standard of not ‘conflict[ing] with authoritative sources’ because her book predated the talk by Elder Oaks. We can look at it with that lens, of course, but I just am not convinced that it’s fundamentally necessary with this book in the end because of the core messages she teaches.

    I also can’t quite get over the fact that Elder Oaks himself, in an earlier talk, presented the idea that Martha would not have been rebuked at all had she not been judgmental and critical. In that talk, he was addressing the principle of not being unrighteously judgmental. I can’t imagine that he would disagree with himself on that score, so this suggests to me that there might be more than one way to look at the story.

    I guess I’m not just convinced that we can choose just one interpretation and say it’s the One True Interpretation. I think texts can support various points of view, depending on what principles you are trying to develop. A quick search at lds.org shows other articles that take Sister Olson’s approach, for example. And Sister Parkin (quoted above) suggested that Mary represents the spiritual needs in our lives and Martha the temporal. It seems there are many ways to look at this story and learn truth.

    I dunno. If there is anyone who is supportive of authoritative sources, it’s me, so please don’t misunderstand. But I am not ready to dismiss other interpretations altogether (including a different take by Elder Oaks himself) that also seem consistent with the record in their own right. I’m interested by the rich potential in these few verses.

    Thoughts?

  • SilverRain December 18, 2007, 6:13 pm

    Posted By: mlinfordthere might be more than one way to look at the story.

    And there, in a nutshell, is the beauty of the scriptures!

  • Alison Moore Smith December 19, 2007, 12:30 pm

    Posted By: mlinfordJust give it a chance, Alison. That’s all I’m saying.

    I’m reading it, am I not? :smile:

  • mlinford December 19, 2007, 2:18 pm

    I’m reading it, am I not? :smile:

    Yuppers. :)

  • Oregonian December 30, 2007, 3:38 pm

    This is a good book, but I think david has made a good point. I still like the book, to it’s wrong to say that Mary’s choice wasn’t better on that day. She has other good points though that don’t depend on that idea being right.

  • davidson December 30, 2007, 10:27 pm

    That’s how I feel about it, Oregonian. She had a lot of good food for thought. I did enjoy the book.

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