During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so we gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

A Letter from Mary and Martha

A portion of a letter was found recently, a letter from Mary and Martha to their granddaughters. While we don’t have the whole document, what we do have is part of their effort to communicate about their story after the encounter we all know about, how they engaged and changed their story going forward from one of conflict to engagement and strength and how they wanted their granddaughters to know.

Here is the portion we have:

Have you ever had someone tell a story about you, a story that came to be known by just your name? As you know that happened to us. And as you know the story took on a life of its own in the church. As it did people seemed prone to want to make us two opposing teams, antagonists, different distinct approaches to the gospel. There especially were people who wanted to rank who was better, who was more like Jesus. And on the one hand we understood—Jesus said that Mary chose the better part. We get that. But we also know this was the same teacher who told the story of the Good Samaritan—who taught that practical action reflected the hands and feet of God, not to mention action that crossed barriers—that went against what was expected or allowed or the way the things are usually done.

Still we got to thinking about our part of the story—about that day, about our relationship. And we began to ask ourselves if we were going to live that story again and again going forward or if we could create a new narrative?

So we began to ask questions. What if we changed our story going forward? What if we took the power from the challenge of what makes us different from each other and used it creatively instead, used it to fuel a relationship instead of fracture one? That felt like good news to us.

And, of course, it took time. It took energy. It took commitment but, oh, the rewards, the possibility, the sisterhood we found. It’s been a gift. It’s been a challenge. It’s been something we wanted you to know about—so we thought we’d write you some of our lessons, our practices, our disciplines in becoming true sisters through and through so that you might too.

• First things first, we decided to resist the world’s categories of us as over and against one another and instead decided we complimented each other. We resisted that that one story was the only story.

• We learned not to define ourselves against each other.

• We learned to be grateful for those times one of us filled in a place the other couldn’t. We tried to stay open to places where we needed to stretch ourselves. We learned to let hard questions come.

• We started to wonder what the other might teach us.

• We took deep, inward looks at ourselves individually—at our motivations, at our fears.

• We stayed curious about everything we could. We learned to ask why we were prone to blaming another for our frustration.

• We sacrificed for each other—as a discipline and manifestation of our faith.

• We learned not to pigeonhole each other even into the roles we loved. We tried not to always say, “Martha, you have to cover the details.” Sometimes I (Mary) needed to be the one who took care of things so Martha could be present. Sometimes I (Martha) needed to step back so Mary could find the joy of doing.

• Finally, we learned to laugh at ourselves and marvel at each other.

At least that’s some of what we did. The truth is that we hesitated to make a list of these things—we didn’t want to give the impression that somehow they were things we did once and checked off. Or that they were all easy. Or even final. They weren’t any of those. But they were part of the ongoing and challenging process. And they pushed us toward connection and transformation and helped us understand and live more into who we felt we were each called to be. Individually and together.

Love your grandmothers,
The M & M’s

Dorisanne Cooper is the pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina.