The Proverbial Dead Rat (Sixth Sunday after Pentecost)

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A few days ago, my wonderful, dear, sweet husband texted me, “I’m so glad you got a break at break at the beach.” I had just been to Ocean City with Maddie and my friend, Tami for a few days. It was great and fun and I am lucky to have had the freedom to go, but… it was not a break.

I knew his intent was support and acknowledgment of all that I’m trying to juggling, but I fired back. Via text.

In case you don’t know, I should say here, my husband is currently on a work assignment on the other side of the world. He’s been there for the past six weeks and we have six more weeks to go. And so, I wasn’t at my best.

I was tired. And was pretty sure if I heard, “Mommy,” called to me one more time I might just lay down and die.

I had come back from the beach to find ants all over the kitchen counters. They had apparently hit the jackpot by finding the box of opened Raisin Bran and had told all their in-laws, out-laws and by-laws.

The bathroom sink was clogged and the half bottle of extra strength Drano wasn’t doing the trick. Or even going down the drain at all, so now the sink was filled with a toxic corrosive.

The roof on our house is being replaced because it’s been leaking. One of the roofers put his foot through the ceiling of my living room. Yes – the actual ceiling. The flat roof in the back desperately needed replaced and his foot just went straight through.

The AC unit in the town house we own and rent out leaked and, in the process, ruined some drywall and carpet. The management company kept emailing and calling me for approval to replace compressors and put in new traps, and… who knows. Beyond my pay grade.

And, Maddie was potty training. So, at any given moment I was sopping urine or feces up off the floor, or off Maddie, or off myself.

I was mad, and tired, and unable to focus on anything fully. I knew I was dropping balls left and right; not paying enough attention to anyone; barely getting my homework done; missing appointments and my calendar was a disaster. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to manage it all.

And so I started to clean. Because this is what I do. I don’t know why it helps me, but it feel as if I’ve gained some mastery and control over my life. When the house is in some semblance of order my internal system begins to calm down, some type of peace seems to return to the universe, and whatever is bothering me is, at least, blunted. Mess is also distracting for me – a constant reminder that things are undone.

And so, to tackle everything that kept arising I, at least, needed my house clean.

After gathering all the trash from the kitchen and the bathrooms, I opened the front door, with my head still foggy, anxiety still plaguing my mind, and still feeling quite alone and overwhelmed, and as I stepped onto the porch something in my subconscious made my foot stop falling… just centimeters from my foot, was a dead mouse. I mean, of course there’s a dead mouse on my porch…

[It’s ok, you can laugh.]

I actually think it was a dead baby rat, but somehow mice seem more sanitary than rats. Regardless, my cat, Mumford, had brought me a dead rodent as a ‘present.’ And all I could think is how perfectly appropriate, because right now, at any given moment, I am two centimeters from stepping on the proverbial dead rat and ending up with its insides smushed all over my foot.

So, the text, “I’m so glad you got a break at the beach,” was utterly incongruent with my reality. The hot, salty tears that were burning in the brims of my eyes just started to fall. I wanted to fling that dead rat out into the universe to express my disgruntlement with life.

Of course, I refrained, because… you know, dead rat guts on my hands weren’t going to help the situation.

Martha probably didn’t have any rats in her modest dwelling. She probably kept them at bay. Right now, Martha’s pretty much my ‘spirit animal.’

Often Mary is held up as the righteous example in this story, and Martha is admonished for not pausing and sitting with Jesus. Martha gets its wrong; Mary gets it right.

But I ‘get’ Martha; I sympathize with her.  And I think we need to recognize that she’s not just puttering in the kitchen, but rather she’s trying to manage anxiety, stress, and expectations.

She’s overwhelmed at serving Jesus and his entourage. She is trying to do everything right, hold it all together, be a good host. However, nobody seems to see how much she is struggling and how alone she feels in all of it. She’s reeling between tasks, trying to respond well to what Jesus and the universe has put before her.

I just want to give her a shout out: I see you, Girl! I feel ya!
Because, come on! I’m falling apart over ants on the counter, urine on floor, and my husband being 7500 miles away. At least Jesus hasn’t plopped himself down on the couch in my living room, right under the hole in the ceiling, while drywall dust gently cascades onto his long locks.

Had Jesus said to me, “Honey, you are worrying about too many things. There is need of only one thing,” well, I might’ve flung the dead rat at him. That would’ve been worse then, “I’m glad you got a break.”

I mean, what is that ‘one thing?’ Mightn’t it have been cleaning up the carcass on the welcome mat? That might actually be the better thing for me than taking a breather. Because had I sat down, without dealing with all those varied catastrophes, I would’ve been silently compiling a to-do list in my mind, with number one being: Buy a new house.

Since my anxiety was knocking the loudest, I felt I needed to focus my attention on getting that under control. I actually think Jesus would’ve agreed that this was necessary. But, doing so meant, for the moment, I missed the care my husband was trying to offer; I missed playing legos with Maddie; I missed sitting and laughing at the absurdity of it all. All of which could have soothed my heart too, however I wasn’t able to shift my focus.

I think this is why Jesus steps in when Martha insists that Mary is shirking her obligations. I believe Jesus knows that Martha’s panicking and I think He’s trying to help her see another way to find some internal peace.

Mary is entitled to sit, talk, and pray, letting the ants eat the Raisin Bran and leaving the rat to decay in the hot sun, if that’s what she needs to settle her internal universe and connect with God.

The irony in the story applies to everyone, whether we identify with Mary or Martha: What you focus on determines what you miss. There are no two ways about it. It is impossible to focus on everything that is offered to us through out each day. Mary’s needs are different than Martha’s needs. The tension arises when the needs of the other aren’t honored and validated.

And while Martha was restoring some order to her world, she wasn’t getting her better need met. I can totally relate. I can’t be my own savior, no matter how hard I try.

See, I actually think both Mary and Martha yearn for the same one thing:
To be understood, seen, valued, and appreciated.

Maybe Mary learned a bit about Martha’s needs that day, and Martha learned a bit about Mary’s. Hopefully, they learned they have need of one another. Because having someone in this chaotic crazy world that gets you and sees you is, well, the ‘one thing’ that really does bring healing and solace to our wearied souls. And, maybe that person, will even clean up the dead rat for you, so you can go sit down together, and remind you that you really are ok and doing just fine – you don’t have to keep the universe spinning. Somebody else has that under control.

But the Martha in me does want you to know – my house is messy again, but the mouse is gone and so are the ants.