Warm Fruit Soup and The Better Part

Last night I joined a couple hundred ladies for a short “women’s conference” at my church. I really didn’t want to be there—I’m still grading papers, even at the end of spring break, laundry is undone and the house is a shambles—but the title was “Mary or Martha? Responding to Christ in Your Life.”

I had to go.
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Vermeer, 1654.
For those not familiar with the story, Martha and Mary of Bethany were sisters of Lazarus and friends of Jesus. Their story, told in the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42) involves Martha, who is busy preparing dinner and being a hostess, and her sister Mary (not the mother of Jesus), sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his message. When Martha complains that Mary isn’t helping, Jesus gently points out that those details don’t matter, that Mary has chosen the better part.
Most modern women have a Martha complex. We want everything to be neat, orderly, clean, and perfect. We want to entertain in style and provide a gracious home for our families and guests. We plan, and we’re annoyed when plans blow up. We struggle to balance these desires with jobs, volunteer work, and perhaps marriage and/or motherhood.  The Martha/Mary story does not seem to resonate with men. It’s a girl thing.
So, what does this have to do with fruit soup?
The leader of the conference was a fellow parishioner named Andrea. She is the mother of 9 kids, and one awesome woman. She shared a number of stories about trying to live a Mary life in a Martha world, and her failures along with her successes were an inspiration.  But the story that stuck with me was the one about warm fruit soup.
Andrea is active in the Schoenstatt movement, a Marian mission started in Germany in 1914. She told a story related in a book by the founder of the movement, Father Joseph Kentenich. A young girl entered the novitiate at a convent in northern Germany. At the first meal, a bowl of warm fruit soup was placed in front of her. This was not anything she was used to eating, but the nun sitting next to her said she didn’t need to eat it. However, the mother superior was seated on the other side of her, and she said “You will be brave.”

Andrea challenged us to look for the examples of the “warm fruit soup” in our lives, and to overcome inner resistance and aversion to the unfamiliar. All of us who are “Marthas” want to have control of our lives, so we often resist change. What we need to do is find the courage to direct the emotions and passions we’re feeling in the right direction. If we connect our aversions to something we love, we can overcome them.
In the past week I’ve had to deal with coming home to a smoky, smelly mess in my kitchen which is still unexplained. Alzheimer’s hubby couldn’t tell me why my prized LeCreuset roasting plan was a blackened hulk, full of ash and the remains of a zipper, on the stove. At least the house didn’t burn down. Dear friends showed up to rescue the evening with awesome carryout from The Bowllery and a bottle of wine. Later that evening I hid the stove knobs and the oven knobs—we’ve had a few near misses there, too.
When I decided to cook on the stovetop a few days later, I turned on the stove and realized it doesn’t work anymore. It will get things warm, not hot.
Great, another thing to fix—another credit card bill.
We’ve had some power surges, and I’m guessing we have an electrical problem in the kitchen. I just pray the house doesn’t burn down before I figure out what it is and find the money to fix it.
The upside? I am now an expert at cooking noodles in the microwave.
Andrea’s fruit soup story has become a mantra in less than 24 hours. I even have a Post-it note over the bathroom mirror with “Warm Fruit Soup” written on it, to remind me to be brave and to decide what’s really worth getting worked up about, and what can be ignored.  Dipping into something new doesn’t have to be unpleasant or scary. It’s up to me to control my emotions, especially my response to them.
So the papers aren’t graded, there are too many shoes and books laying around the house, the yard looks like hell and the laundry isn’t folded. That’s OK. Like Martha, I’m trying to find the better part, to figure out what’s really important, and to pick my battles. To be more like her sister Mary.

And while we’re at it, here’s a German recipe for warm fruit soup that looks really interesting.

This post originally appeared on the blog The View From Little D on March 16, 2013.

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