By Shirley Wainwright
While living in the Middle East, I became aware of what is sometimes referred to as “the eldest daughter syndrome” where, in traditional families, the firstborn daughter is purposefully taught all the domestic skills, the responsibility for which fall primarily upon her as more children are added to the family and later as parents age. As time passes she is less likely to marry and becomes ‘locked in’ to a life of domestic service. In my classes I occasionally encountered such women who were struggling to balance the tension between family expectations and the desire to live a more liberated 21st century life of independence expressed through education, career and other contributions to society.
Elements of such a scenario seem to fit into the bible story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus had come to visit and while Mary was spending time with Him, listening to Him teach the scriptures, Martha (likely the elder of the two) was rushing around attending to the hostessing duties. Martha didn’t think it was fair and made it known to Jesus. After all, women were not supposed to study and she needed help with the serving! Jesus could have instructed Mary to help but instead He lovingly guided Martha to realign her priorities. He didn’t chide her for her serving, service is necessary, but He did point out that Mary, in prioritising time with Him, had made the better choice.
How often does the “eldest daughter syndrome” (gender aside) creep into our lives? In our efforts to get ahead, find significance, achieve goals and generally cope with life, we sometimes feel overworked, unsupported and undervalued - a bit like Martha. We may even take our complaints to God, praying the ‘it’s not fair, Lord’ kind of prayers. Common sense tells us that the work needs to be done and responsibilities shouldn’t be neglected, but like Martha, we need to discern what’s important and prioritise.
The good thing about Martha’s approach to this stressful situation was that she did bring her concern to Jesus. She didn’t get the answer she was looking for but she did get wisdom and guidance that would enable her to realign her thoughts and actions. That part of our soul from which comes determination, purposefulness, self-regulation, the will to succeed, etc., sometimes needs to be realigned so that we make the best choices and enjoy the most rewarding outcomes. Jesus can and will help us to do so. Let’s not forget to include Him in everything this year.