This whole Mary/Martha talk has me remembering a beautiful conversation I had with a pal. At a writer’s retreat, I listened to a writer read her memoir about her love for food and the extension of love when we feed others. Later, the chef/writer made us a meal in our cabin. I asked what I could do to help, and she handed me the tomatoes, told me to wash them and cut them up. When I asked if she wanted the diced or chopped, or what, she explained something to me that changed my life. She told me what the tomatoes were for in the recipe, and that I could cut them how I deemed fit.
Then she went on to explain her theory about the kitchen and help offered. Typically, what we do in the kitchen when we have friends or family over, someone asks what they can do to help and we say, “No thanks.” Or “I’ve got it, you sit down and relax.” Or some version of that. But you invited your friends over for dinner to nourish them and have this moment in community. And they want to be a part of that. They want to help. And you don’t want to put them out. But your rejection on their offer is simply that.
If someone asks what they can do to help and you say nothing, you’re shooting them down. It’s as if you’re saying, “I don’t want your help, nor your extension of love in action.”
When someone asks to help you, give them the gift of letting them help you. It’s an extension of you receiving their help, their love. And yeah, they just asked if they could help you with chopping up veggies for a salad, because “How can I express my love and support through my actions?” tends to be a little over articulate and weird. Hand them a potato to peel or a zucchini to chop already.
The best conversations happen while helping in the kitchen, rarely over dinner. I know, because I was chopping tomatoes while learning about the very concept. My daughter and mother-in-law had a discussion about prayer while peeling potatoes. Overhearing a snippet of conversation, I thought to snap a picture of the moment. Each of them now cherishes a framed photo of them peeling potatoes.
Clearly Martha was having a hard time asking for help. And I personally, think it would have made a better story if Jesus stood up, and started helping with the hummus while preaching. For Christ’s sake, Martha was overwhelmed that no one would help (love) her with the food.
On another side of a coin, when someone is in a stressful situation, and you ask, “What can I do for you?” That’s nice, but it puts added decisions to make on the said overwhelmed person. In the most stressful time in your life, when someone dies, or you have triplets when you thought there was just one in there, or you have Jesus over for dinner, “What can I do?” ain’t helping.
The most helpful thing you can do for a friend in duress is just do something you think might be helpful. It’ll help. Trust me.
So, the next time you’re at a dinner party, grab the tomatoes and start dicing. And then next time you host a dinner party, hand a cutting board and a knife over to some pals. Either way, it’s got nothing to do with food and everything to do with love.
Leslie is a blogger for Darkwood Brew. She’s had her own blog for 8 years – www.momontherocks.com, chronicling the crazy moments of mommyhood. She also has a column in HerLiving, a local Omaha Magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s laughing and/or eating with her very tall family: husband, Chris, and twins, Max and Lucy.