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How to Have a Mary (not Martha) Christmas

December 17, 2022

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By Joy Ballard

The Christmas season brings out two main reactions: delight and dread. Are you caught up in the merriment of the season, or so you feel dreadfully behind and unprepared?

As Jesus followers, we know that Christmas is meant to be a remembrance of his willingness to enter humanity for our sake. Whether you love or dread the season, it can be a struggle to keep Jesus at the center of it and perhaps that’s the problem. 


Delight gets drowned out by stuff; joy suffocated by expectations. By the end of it, the trash bins are overflowing, we feel guilty about the consumed sugar and we’re happy to shove all the fa-la-la back into its boxes.

It sounds like Martha made this party happen with the sweat of her brow and a frown of resentment! (It also sounds like a tragic first world materialism problem… but that’s another topic.)

Remember the sisters in the Bible, Martha and Mary? They were good friends of Jesus along with their brother Lazarus. Jesus loved spending time in their home.

One time when Jesus and his disciples came by, Martha pulled out her cookbooks and fired up the oven, all full of good intentions to serve her guests. She called out, “Mary, can you fetch the spices for the lamb?” …or something along those lines. But Martha soon realized she was alone in her efforts because Mary was sitting by Jesus, enthralled by his words and shockingly oblivious to the work at hand. 

Martha actually complained to Jesus and his response was: “Martha, Martha…. you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42, NIV)

How to Have a Mary (Not Martha) Christmas


Theirs was a culture that did hospitality and celebrations well. The issue wasn’t in food preparation, but in the heart attitude behind it. 

Perhaps the best gift we can give Jesus isn’t our talents or well prepared plans, but ourselves. 

Mary prioritized being with Jesus, foolish as it seemed to Martha. If the priority is to be more aware of Jesus’ presence in our lives and by default be more present to the ones he has entrusted us with, we will go against the flow of a culture that has turned this season into a mad rush to empty our wallets. 

Friends, family and even our own kids might not understand as they’ve been informed by the world around them of what expectations they should have for this time of year. But how can we choose what is better, as Mary did?

Here are some practical ways to have a Mary (not Martha) Christmas:

  • Focus more on being and less on doing

Replace busy activities with connecting activities–find activities you enjoy with your spouse and/or kids and ditch the activities that feel like obligations. If you haven’t had time to talk and laugh together, you’re not creating the kinds of memories that last.

  • Slow down and simplify

Don’t just do less, but also in a slower and more simplified way. Rushing and the clutter of too much stuff is strongly correlated to stress and worry. Your kids will not forever regret that you didn’t go on a Christmas lights drive or only baked two types of cookies this year. Your faithfulness to these things isn’t making you a better mom but rather teaching them that their happiness depends on them. 

  • Plan ahead

Slowing down and simplifying does require preparation. The stress we feel about last minute shopping, spending and wrapping is because it is, in fact, last minute. Be kind to yourself by setting up a plan beforehand so you can be free of last minute stress. 

  • Make it all about Jesus

That the Creator took the form and limitations of the created because of love is the best story ever told and it should outshine all glitter, presents, reindeer and magic. This is a rescue story and we are the recipients of God’s lavish gift. 

At the heart of a “Mary” Christmas is delight. There is no better response to what Jesus has done for us. 

Wife Step: Come to terms with your “Martha” side and make some changes so you can have a “Mary” Christmas.

Grab our free marriage resources here!

Joy Ballard Square

Joy was born and raised in a multicultural, bilingual family in the country of Mexico. Although she loves a good taco, her love for a Minnesota guy won out. 14 years of marriage, 4 kids and many geographical locations later, they now reside in Indiana where her husband is completing a doctoral program. Together they love helping couples discover the incredible adventure marriage was intended to be. They have led many marriage small groups, ministries and retreats, but their favorite way to connect with other couples is by simply sharing life together. When not deep in the throes of homeschooling and parenting, Joy enjoys devouring books, stringing words together, dabbling in watercolor, and sipping coffee with friends. Photo credit: Woodford Sisters Photography

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