How to Tell if You Are Suffering from the Martha Syndrome (And 5 Ways to Deal With It)


Disclaimer: This is not a medical post and as far as I know, there is no illness called the Martha Syndrome. Correct me if I am wrong.

I have this problem, and so do many of you, with being distracted in prayer. We’re distracted for many reasons, good or bad, and it can be the hardest thing to tackle.

I call it the Martha Syndrome and the symptoms can be found in many areas of our lives. But let’s speak of how it affects our prayer. You begin your prayer with a little praise and maybe some thanks, throw in a few prayer requests, all with this anxious, nagging feeling reminding you of all you have yet to do. You find yourself feeling both frustrated and guilty because you don’t have the time to spend on your relationship with your Heavenly Father and before you know it, you have a worse attitude than before you began.

I am going to give you some personal advice on how to deal with this. But first let me explain why I call it what I call it.

What is the Martha Syndrome?

A couple of thousand years ago there lived two sisters and a brother who were very good friends of Jesus’s. When Jesus came to dinner he did what he normally did and that was talk about the things of God. He would preach truth to His hungry listeners, and at this time, Mary, a fellow hostess with her sister Martha, sat at Jesus feet and listened. As sisters are prone to do, Martha was angry with Mary for leaving her to do all of the work and she said so to Jesus. But instead of berating Mary, Jesus told Martha that her distraction over the needs of the moment were keeping her from true worship. *

We don’t know what Martha said to that, but I am sure a good guess would be to say that she rightly took His words to heart and endeavored to learn the lesson she was just taught.

I will admit right now that I am a Martha instead of a Mary, distracted by important needs and therefore likely to miss the beauty of the moment. Although I attest to this in character –something you cannot change because it is the way you were made– it is also a symbol of what many of us are like in the face of distraction. I call it “the Martha Syndrome”.

If you suffer from this syndrome as well when it comes to prayer, and you want to do something about it, then read on. But beware, like all things worth doing, it takes time and commitment.

How to Deal with the Martha Syndrome

1. Block out distractions.
Dr. Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and founder and president of In Touch ministries, is a strong advocate of taking care to block out all distractions when preparing to talk with the Lord. Time and time again he has stressed the importance of conducting your prayer time in a dark room or closet where noise and other distractions are less likely to interrupt. It might seem a little peculiar but desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Other ways to minimize distractions are by turning off your phone, or in fact, leaving it in the other room where you can neither see nor hear it. But of course you must tailor this to your own needs and uses.

2. Start with honesty.
I am not going to begin to instruct you on the proper way to pray but from my own experience, here are a few things I would recommend. When I am struggling with those feelings I mentioned before, I have found it’s a good idea to tell Him so. Be honest and tell Him what is on your mind that is distracting you, and then be sure to ask Him to give you peace and concentration during your prayer time with Him. Simply talking does wonders and He is always ready to listen.

3. Move on to praise.
After baring your soul, start praising Him for what He has done and will do. For me, this has become a great foundation for getting my prayer priorities on the right track. It gets your mind off of you and onto the One you are worshipping.

4. Speak out loud.
This isn’t always easy and it definitely depends on where you are, but at times, praying out loud to God seems to cement your thoughts and provide clarity. This definitely cuts distraction for me, but it is just a bit awkward with others in the room or nearby.

5. Remember the work will wait for you.
Remind yourself that your prayer time is the most important thing you will do all day long and everything else falls in behind it. This said, the work will be there when you finish, whether sooner or later.

This is how I handle the Martha Syndrome when it raises its troubling head in my life. That is, when I am patient enough to see the importance of it. Obviously, there are times when you simply cannot spend the time you may wish to in prayer. I will readily admit that I have not learned the lesson Jesus taught Martha and in turn is trying to teach each of us.

What about you? What steps do you take to minimize distractions in prayer and bible study in your life? Give me your honest opinion on what you think of mine.

*The account of Mary and Martha is can be read in John 10: 38-42

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