The Mary and Martha Duet

Our dual natures need balance to find inner harmony

Jesus with Mary and Martha

The Christmas season beckons – a time of wonder and light. It can be such a busy time filled with many activities and finding a balance between the temporal and spiritual can be particularly challenging. My pondering has led me to Mary and Martha.

I love Mary and Martha, two faith-filled sisters who loved their brother, Lazarus, and the Lord. Their story can be found in the New Testament (Luke 10:38–41; John 11:1–46; John: 12:2-3).

Jesus with Mary and Martha

The many paintings and sculptures that represent the artists’ interpretations of these two sisters and their interactions with the Lord during His mortal ministry are inspiring.

I have seen myself like Martha – busy doing those things that will make a visit enjoyable for my guests. It is also true that I am a contemplative person - wanting to sit and learn from inspired leaders. Here is my personal conclusion: within me is a Mary/Martha duet. The choice of either/or can be situational. Perhaps a balance between Mary/Martha is a more effectual perspective.

Mormon gold plates

Scholar or soldier

Mormon, the great compiler of the Book of Mormon, helped me view Mary and Martha in a new way. Mormon was a scholar who took a thousand years of recorded history and abridged the information for our benefit (Words of Mormon). He was also a valiant soldier (Mormon 2) who fought many battles with his people. He represents a balance of service and sacrifice.

Did Mormon find strength in his deep study of the records that enabled him to serve his people? I believe he did. Mormon found a way to balance spiritual pursuits and the earthly necessities of battle and family.

Nephi building boat

Nephi’s life was also a constant Mary/Martha duet. He “did cry unto the Lord” (1 Nephi 2:16) and he was taught. He was then able to declare he would go and do as the Lord commanded (1 Nephi 3:7). This balance of listening like Mary and then doing like Martha was repeated consistently throughout his life. He sought guidance from his father for hunting after he fashioned a new bow (1 Nephi 16:23). When he was required to build a ship (1 Nephi 17) (1Nephi 18) the Martha process of building the vessel taught his Mary portion how to #HearHim.

Nephi Building a boat

Our Martha efforts can strengthen our connection to our Father in Heaven by teaching us how to receive and recognize revelation thereby strengthening the Mary portion of us. The Mary portion also inspires us towards more Martha good works. Listening and doing are interrelated and complementary paths guiding us to celestial glory.


Human beings are rarely all one or the other. We are unique, interesting combinations of character traits. The prominent trait at a given moment can often be determined by the situation in which we find ourselves. We are many things at one time seeking for harmony within ourselves and with God.

A missionary is a good example of the integrated efforts of our nuances. A portion of each day is spent in study, prayer, learning from the words of God and being taught by the Holy Ghost. There are also daily moments of action - finding, serving, teaching, doing, even cooking.

Our lives can be visualized as perched on a balance beam and moving forward. If you lean too far either way, you will lose balance and fall off. Life’s challenge is finding the balance like Mormon did between scholar and soldier – the Mary/Martha duet.

Mary Martha and Jesus

Connecting with the divine

Commonly we label ourselves as Martha and decide we somehow lack a Mary portion.

The Mary part of our being is the portion that connects with the divine. Every time we read our scriptures, pray, minister to another, attend our meetings, participate in temple ordinances, we are manifesting the Mary element of ourselves as we sit at the feet of the Saviour and open a portal to the divine. The Mary part guides the doer (Martha) in us to the enabling power of the Atonement and we are strengthened in our acts of service.

Christmas present

I particularly needed my Mary portion the Christmas when my Martha portion decided to take a small tree to a sister in the hospital. I was perplexed when the sister was stressed by the gesture. The Holy Ghost helped me see the tree was an added concern. When I promised I would return and remove the tree when the season was over the sister was able to enjoy the symbol of Christmas. I can be a more effective instrument in the hands of the Lord when the Martha within me seeks the insight and discernment of Mary.

Wait upon the Lord

I can only imagine the deep grief of Mary and Martha as they watched their brother Lazarus die and as they waited on the Lord (John 11). They had sent Jesus word. I’m sure they hoped and prayed Jesus would arrive in time. But then the worst happened. Their brother was dead and entombed before the Lord arrived.

The waiting of Mary and Martha has led me to ponder the waiting times in my life. We all face the Mary waiting as we seek for an answer to our prayers. There are also Martha waiting experiences when we need to wait for the right moment to speak or act. Nephi did not build the ship until they were at the seashore. We often find ourselves like Mary and Martha waiting at the tomb.

Jesus Mary and Martha


A beautiful duet is created as the Martha portion of our being is intertwined with Mary and becomes one within us. Each part bolsters the other - acts of service demonstrate our willingness to act. My relationship with Heavenly Father is enhanced as I study, ponder, pray and serve in the temple. The moments of stillness feed my soul and remind me of eternal goals. Stillness allows me to reassess priorities and choose the best works for me.

These works help me become Christlike and celestial note by note, even during a hectic Christmas season. As we find the balance we are unified within our very beings and with our Heavenly Father, and that is eternal life.