by Debra and Daniel Murphy

[This article was first published in the United States in the early ‘90’s by the Daughters of St. Paul in their Family magazine, then reprinted in the April 1994 (vol. 15, NO. 3) issue of the British journal, The Sower: the Journal for Religious Educators in School and Parish]

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What is largely missing in today’s parenting is the biblical ‘better (or best) part” that Jesus pointed out to Martha (see Luke 10:38-42).

Choosing the better part

We parents are entrusted with the physical, intellectual, psychological and spiritual growth and development of our children, who are made in God’s image and likeness.They echo God’s inexhaustible life and love.In them, we can see something of God’s face.

But, do we take time to see it?Or are we often too concerned about the ‘many things’ involved in raising them, and not concerned enough about really seeing who they are?

Advancing technology makes us more and more prone to describe and define ourselves, and to measure our relationships with others, according to productivity.Our society is characterised by a cult of doing, neglecting the far more important ‘culture of being’.The family is the best place to apply a remedy for this disease of over-doing.

Giving full attention

In the Martha and Mary story, though, there is not an absolute either-or choice between being and doing.What Martha busied herself with was not wrong; but, the spirit in which she did it was lacking.What Mary was doing – listening to Jesus – was not necessarily ‘better’ than what Martha was doing; but the spirit in which she did it was indeed the ‘best part’.She centered her attention on Jesus, lovingly.Mary’s attitude might be described as complete presence, full focus, rapt attention, affirmation, loving contemplation.

Our children, as images of God, deserve an approach or spirit like Mary’s toward Jesus.Of course, like Martha, we must busy ourselves in service of them – changing diapers, making meals, helping with homework, talking over problems, repairing the house.If we did not do these ‘many things’, our love could become shallow and egotistical.

It is not that we can afford long hours of pure contemplation of our children!But we can perform the ‘many things’ in a spirit of the one thing necessary:love.

Every good parent experiences this ‘one thing necessary’, at least in fleeting moments.Now and then when your child is sleeping, you study his face and are struck with the sheer wonder of your child’s being.Or, when your child is sick, you find yourself thinking about her remarkable goodness; your compassion leads you to ‘see’ your child more completely.

We actually think that these moments (of intense awareness of our children) happen because of certain circumstances that create a sharper, but passing, awareness.But, isn’t it possible that they should and can become a more frequent experience?

You might be thinking that this approach to parenting is a luxury you as a busy adult cannot afford.But remember:we are talking about the manner, the spirit of our parenting, not the activities.

The ‘Mary’ of parenting means greater attention, a sharper listening, a fuller focus in moments when we are with our children.It requires an interior slowing down and a decision to act on what we know to be true:that our children are wonderful in their very being.

Ideas for developing ‘Mary’ parenting

We have found that ‘Mary’ parenting can be developed.It is not easy or automatic, however, because it goes against much of what we have learned and imbibed from our achievement-and-results-driven society.

Here are a few of the ways we have found that work.But, it must be remembered that how we do these things is more important than the activities themselves.

Examine yourself now and then in quiet moments.‘How am I acting?As though my child were indeed a marvellous gift from God?’This is not to suggest that when your four-year-old throws a tantrum, you stand by marvelling at his luminous worth!Responsible parenting must include consistent discipline.But calling to mind who our children really are – treasures from God – does remind us that our children are wonderful, and helps us to get through the most trying times of parenting.

Take time to observe your children, to ‘listen’ to who they are with your whole heart.Who is this little (or young) person?Let your child reveal himself.Set aside your preconceived notions about yourself and your child, and just take in the wonder of this other person.

Build in rituals – regular family activities that slow you and the children down, creating a climate for apprehending the goodness of one another.Leisure and the capacity to value your child’s being are closely linked.In our family we have little talks together before the children retire, during which they recount the events of their day and say as much as they want to.We, as parents, listen and ask questions.We really want to hear. Family prayer and meal times can likewise become occasions for forging deeper bonds.

Integrating ‘Mary’ into our parenting will bring wonderful rewards, even giving us a glimpse of heaven.Then, the true and complete value of ourselves and of others, including God himself, will be revealed to us.

“In the course of their journey he [Jesus] came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking.Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself?Please tell her to help me.”But the Lord answered:“Martha, Martha,” he said, “you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one.It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.”