the holy NO!


I have a friend who is a true Martha. We all know the story of the quintessential worker-bee. Martha is busy in the kitchen making sure all will be fed while her sister, Mary, sits leisurely at the feet of Jesus, soaking in his every word. Jesus praises Mary for choosing the better path.

My friend always stood up for Martha. After all, she would say, nothing would get done if it wasn’t for the good souls who see the practical needs, roll up their sleeves, and get it done! You can’t argue with her reasoning. Sitting on a contemplative cloud doesn’t put dinner on the table.

During a recent conversation with our online faith community, my “Martha” friend said that her current goal in life is to learn to say a “Holy NO!” Knowing her busy life, we all chuckled. Then pondered. Then nodded our heads in agreement.

A Holy NO!

Why do we feel so compelled to say Yes! to tasks, favours or projects?

One reason may be due to our catholic upbringing. (Gasp!) We were raised with a theology that goes something like this. “Jesus died on the cross for you. Your life should be a continual sacrifice to honour the ultimate sacrifice made by our Lord and Saviour.”

How can you say No?

Sacrificial thinking was tied to the virtue of obedience. Unquestioning, submissive, humble obedience. In our hierarchical church, these lines of obedience were clearly laid out. Priests obeyed bishops. Bishops obeyed the pope. Laity had to obey them all. Why? Because priests, bishops and the pope spoke for God. Disobeying them was disobeying God.

Again. How can you say No?

Patriarchal thinking ruled family life also. The mother who craved time for herself was pointed towards the ever meek and mild Virgin Mary.  Women were to put aside their own needs, dreams and aspirations. They were to sacrifice all for their family.

Our time, treasure and talents are gifts given to us. Gifts made to be shared. We cannot go through life saying No! to every request made of us. That would be a selfish life indeed, and make for an awkward conversation at the pearly gates.

But, our time, treasure and talents are also limited. We need to discern carefully and wisely to whom we give these gifts. It’s a matter of balancing the Martha and the Mary in our lives.

We all need “Mary” time – with ourselves, our loved ones, with God. “Mary” time feeds the mind, heart and soul. We need to BE as much as we need to DO.

Sometimes we need to give our inner “Martha” a polite, firm, and holy NO!




4 thoughts on “the holy NO!

  1. All you have to do is to seek to observe – yet likely fail to fully understand – and surely admire the Sisters of St Martha of Antigonish.

  2. I really dislike that Martha story. I think that it’s used to reinforce the misogyny present in the Church. I really dislike the stark choice — either taking care of physical needs, or attending to spiritual needs. I think that it’s a false choice.
    While I agree with you about the importance of being able to say “no” when necessary, I really hate to see this being set up as a dichotomy between being present to help others and having time and space for one’s needs. I think that we can do both. I also think that there are many people who need to focus more on others. I don’t know all that much about what is happening in Canada, but here in the US, those who are in power in our government care nothing for anyone with needs. The bishops in the US mostly hobnob with the wealthy and powerful and are far more preoccupied with pelvic issues and with firing gays who marry than they are with the Sermon on the Mount.
    Our society needs to work harder to encourage people to be compassionate and to develop healthy limits. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me.

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