When I planned the April 26th program, “A Mary Spirit, A Martha Attitude,” I did not plan it with me in mind. My goal was to encourage women to consider the state of their body, soul and spirit. We live in a fast paced world that is subject to chaos at any moment, and women are too often subject to the “disease to please,” the notion that everything must be done well and every individual must be happy with the results. No, I did not think of me when I planned the program, but by the time the conversation between me and Ms. Evelyn Heart (aka Evelyn Polk) ended at 10 p.m., I realized that there were some more changes I needed to make in order to free myself from the burden of being anyone other than myself, to become more comfortable with my voice.
I well acquainted with stress; I am wired for stress. I can go from 0 to 60 stress in nothing flat. I misplaced a debit card last evening and almost lost my mind about where I might have lost it, so I can still lose my mind over minutia. I can be that proverbial chicken with its head cut off, flopping all over the place and accomplishing nothing. I have, however, learned to recognize the warning signs, those moments when I must step back and say, “The ball is in your court Lord. I’ll just wait until I hear from you.”
I asked the question last evening, “What is stress?” Ms. Evelyn answered, “The pressure to perform, [to meet the expectations of others].” How many of us have fallen into that trap of doing, not because we want to do so, but because someone else is expecting us to perform? Is anyone else out there weary of being on call for performance?
Ms. Evelyn also challenged us all to consider all our stuff and determine exactly what it is we need to survive healthily; once we make that determination, then everything else is a want. I understood this admonition as the Lord spoke to me almost four years ago when I was moping over my finances and the fact that I could no longer shop the way I used to:
“Shop in your own closet, Donna.”
“Shop in your own closet!”
I did not question the command; I just took the step. One more stressor removed. Today, I am still shopping in my closet and guess what!! I am surviving. Oh, yes I do have those moments when I wish I could go out and buy that dress or those shoes, especially when I see a sister in a pair of red soled stilettos. But, I am learning, as Paul writes in Philippians 4:12, to be content in every state. By the way, if you pay close attention to this passage, you will discover that verse 12 of Philippians 4 connects directly to verse 13, the verse we often quote and often misunderstand. I can be content in any state, rich or poor, full or hungry, because I CAN do all things through Christ who is my strength. It’s a challenging learning curve, but it one for which we all must press.
I personally think that some of this “Superwoman” mentality is a result of feminist-thought, a by-product of the 70s that has been mainstreamed into our everyday world. I often think about the feminists and the African American woman, especially the African American women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generation. Married, or not, they all worked and they did not have what we would call professional jobs today; though there were the teachers,the majority of the women I knew were domestics and factory workers. They worked hard all day long and then they came home and continued to work hard.
The firestarter for the feminist movement was a book, The Feminine Mystique (written by Betty Friedan, 1963; mystique: an air or attitude of mystery and reverence developing around something or someone) begins with an introduction describing what Friedan called “the problem that has no name”—the widespread unhappiness of women in the 1950s and early 1960s (read, not the majority of African American women). It discusses the lives of several housewives from around the United States who were unhappy despite living in material comfort and being happily married with fine children. The problem in 1963 for African American women was not the June Cleaver, clean house in a crisp shirtwaist while Ward goes off to work in a shirt and tie and Wally and Beaver skip to school, all three to return to an unruffled mom who has dinner ready as soon as they walk through the door. The problem that very much had a name was Jim Crow and racism, an issue that was more of a concern for the African American than whether or not they were affirmed and valued at home.
This issue of racism is even an issue in the feminist camp, the elephant in the room that very few will address. Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934 – November 17, 1992, a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist) confronted the elephant in the room of feminism, the idea that the black woman’s experiences are marginalized in the movement, that they are not considered the norm and so even as we embrace feminism, we have to ask which came first the chicken (racism) or the egg (feminism) and which is more detrimental to our community. Still, from my perspective, feminism has fed into this notion that I can do it all by myself and I don’t need a man for anything (an interesting concept because even artificial insemination requires a man at some point in the process).
I referred last evening to the Sojourner Truth speech, “Ain’t I A Woman,” a speech that was made at a woman’s convention in 1861. The issue of racism was even at work in this setting as while some women wanted the ex-slave to speak, she who quietly sat to the side on some steps, others did not want the voice of an abolitionist runaway to distort their message, but stronger voices prevailed and Sojourner spoke extemporaneously about her right to enjoy everything that the white women were already enjoying.
I have to say, as I looked at some of the responses to the issues posted on the IAD facebook page I was very impressed, especially since I am still a mess, and was even more of a mess when I had three kids at home, a husband who was a pastor, two dogs, a house that screamed to be cleaned at least once a week, everyone’s dirty laundry that had to be washed, dried and folded, and a career that demanded all my attention in the 8 hour day, and one that traveled me all over the country. Add to that ministry responsibilities and it is of little wonder that someone gave me a button that read, “Sleep is a luxury I cannot afford.”
I appreciate all the Martha attitudes, but I also feel that we have to work the Mary Spirit in, as well. We have to take time for emotional, spiritual and physical refreshing. “Too blessed to be stressed,” is a great idea, but if the truth were told, for most of us, it is a lie that is neither little or white. Too many of us are too stressed, too short on time and often not long on money, and so busy taking care of everyone else that we have little time to take care of ourselves. We feel guilty when we say no and take responsibility for the things that do go wrong. Some of us are tore up from the floor up and yet we put on our masks, stuff our weariness and start out all over again.
The responses to Dion’s question, “What stresses you out on a daily basis?” were great, testimonies about keeping all the balls in the air, running a tight ship, making sure everyone is happy, etc. Though Ms. Evelyn was loathe to say that the women who did respond were stressed or weren’t taking time out for self-maintenance, I wondered why anyone bothered to respond to the stress question if the things they did daily, were not stressors. I applaud every woman who is doing it for herself, who is chief cook and bottle washer, who can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but I also wish for them the ability to delegate some of those tasks without guilt, to learn that “No,” is not a dirty word, and that every once in a while, they must be still and know that Jehovah is God, the advice of a former single parent, pastor’s wife, corporate executive, frenetic overachiever and anxious self-starter, ME.
What do we know about Mary and Martha. Well, Martha was the doer while Mary was the dreamer. Martha was the go-to person while Mary often got so involved in her own thoughts that she forgot about those around her. It was Mary’s choleric temperament that caused her to rebuke Jesus for not rebuking Mary, the melancholic temperament, because she was not helping. Jesus’ gently rebuke probably caught Martha by surprise, but I like to think that she took the time, later, to think about those needful things of which Jesus spoke. Ms. Evelyn gave us four Rs of needful things: Retreat [get away from the hustle and bustle]/Rest [real rest, sleep and down time]/Recreate [lean how to play again, let the little kid within play again]/Return [return to the trenches revived, restored and ready to work]
In my research for the program, I came across the following “assertions,” excerpts from a book, WHEN I SAY NO, I FEEL GUILTY © Copyright 2009 by Manuel J. Smith. I offer them for thoughtful and prayerful consideration; I am not endorsing any of the assertions other than to say some of them spoke to me about how I handle my day to day relationship conundrums, what is not working because I am not taking responsibility for the decisions I make:
“A Bill of Assertive Rights”
In your daily life, at work and at home, people may try to manipulate you into doing what they want by making you feel nervous, uninformed or culpable. If you let them
push you around, or if you run away from them or withdraw, you will feel frustrated, angry or depressed. When you permit others to control your actions, you abdicate self-
“You can ‘con’ someone into doing something, you can manipulate someone and you can assertively say what you want someone to do, but you cannot control another
adult’s behavior consistently.” “Communication is the ‘glue’ that keeps people together while a relationship grows and strengthens into a channel of mutual support, counsel, productivity, excitation and satisfaction.”
“The first step in fixing the situation is to know that “no one can manipulate your emotions or behavior if you don’t allow it to happen.” Follow the Bill of Assertive Rights, which outlines the basics of healthy, nonmanipulative relationships in business and at home:
1. “You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts and emotions, and to take
the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.”
2. “You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.”
3. “You have the right to judge if you are responsible for finding solutions to other
4. “You have the right to change your mind.”
5. “You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them.”
6. “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t know’.”
7. “You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping
8. “You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.”
9. “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t understand’.”
10. “You have the right to say, ‘I don’t care’.”
Now, Ms. Evelyn and I differ about #10. She believes we should always care, and certainly we should, but when it comes to an individual’s response to my “No,” or not meeting their expectations simply because I can choose not to do so, “I don’t care.” I will love the person, but I will no longer let that person manipulate me because of my love.
I offer you Ms. Evelyn’s “Heart Rx, her prescription for a healthy self-view. I think this acrostic will bless you and your life as you the Mary-Martha who looks to God for all things:
H – Have a sense of Humor and the assurance that “this too shall pass”
E – Expect people to question, discourage, resist your decision to say “yes” to yourself (therefore “no” to their agendas/expecations for you)
A- Acknowledge and Admit your need for change, rest, time for you and God
R – Respect the needs of your body, soul and spirit to Retreat & Rest from, Recreate, & Return to your daily/earthly tasks and responsibilities
T- Trust and Thank God for His provision of ALL–each and EVERY ONE of your needs–past, present, and future.
Ms. Evelyn mentioned a book title which I am probably mangling, but I love the thought. This just might be my new mantra: When I’ve Done All I Can Do, That’s All I Can Do. I like it!
A FINAL THOUGHT: Ever wonder if you are a co-dependent? Chew on this definition: “Co-dependent – When I want more for someone than they want for themselves.” What’s that old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink?” How many horses are you leading to water and day after day but they refuse to drink yet you keep pushing and prodding and poking? Hmmmmm.
ALWAYS REMEMBER: A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE WILL OF GOD!