Find Jesus in Housework

Tami Kiser shares about how Catholic women can become “smart Marthas.”

Smart Martha seminars put lessons from St. Martha’s life — Martha (whose feast day is July 29) was busy with hospitality, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet in  Luke 10 — to work in modern times. Tami Kiser, the program’s developer, is the author of Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms (2010). “I love your book and recommend it to other moms because it is so encouraging and positive,” says Mary Alice Phillips of St. Bernard’s Parish in Wamego, Kan. “It’s like chatting over coffee with another Catholic mom who lifts you up.”
Kiser recently shared about the focus of her advice that helps Catholic women become “smart Marthas.”

How did your program come about?
I began doing one-hour organization seminars for home-schooling conferences. I found that I had a wealth of information, as far as organizing chores, organizing family meals, etc. All in all, I had an overwhelming amount of information that I was trying to cram into those one-hour presentations.
I decided that because I have so much information I should really do a half-day seminar, so that I can cover these topics well, sharing my information with other women. At the same time, it would be an opportunity for the women to interact with each other and to share with each other what they do. One of the benefits of the seminars is having the women share with other women in the group.

Do you have a professional background for this type of work?
I always tell the women that I have studied a number of organizational/cleaning books and, most importantly, have tried them out for 25-plus years, with 10 children in tow.
I was raised in the 1980s, during the feminist movement. My goal was to get a job and to never have any children. Honestly, that was my attitude when I was in college. I then had a change of heart. I had a conversion experience and really embraced wanting to be a mother and to stay home to raise my children. I took it as a profession to accomplish that task really well. It is my God-given vocation. I now see these housekeeping duties as ways to show my love to my children and spouse, instead of burdensome tasks.

Why do you call them Smart Martha seminars?
When I began compiling my information and deciding on how I would arrange the seminars so that women would get the most benefit, I was just really struck one day at Mass about the Mary-Martha story.
In fact, each time I hear that story, I am always convicted. Here I am, trying to teach women all the kinds of Martha activities — for example, this is how you get your dishes done; here’s how to cook the meals; here’s a way to do your cleaning, etc. — but where is Jesus in all of this? Mary chose the “better part,” not Martha. 
I try to teach women practical ways to be like Mary and to search for the Jesus that they have in their lives. We may not have Jesus sitting in our dining room, but we do have Jesus in our lives in other ways. Some of these ways are obvious, like going to Mass or adoration. Other ways are to see Jesus in the other people in our lives, especially our spouse and children. And, finally, we can even find Jesus in the dishes.
A “smart Martha” is someone who knows to search for Jesus and finds him, even in her really busy home. She is smart about what she needs to do, does it well and is smart about finding Jesus in that task. Smart Martha can find him not only at Mass, but playing Candy Land with the children, giving a teenager a ride to soccer practice and in the sink full of dishes.

How does one go about scheduling a Smart Martha seminar at a given parish?
All of this information is on my website, But, basically, one can just email me from my website, and we can see if the date wanted is available. Since I am also striving to be a smart Martha to my busy family, I only do seminars once a month. 

What is the schedule like for a seminar day?
After the introduction, there is time set aside for personal meditation. Each section ends with an activity or group discussion. At the very end of the seminar, during what I call a large-group session, I open the seminar up to questions.
Each participant is given a workbook, titled “The Smart Martha Seminar,” and there are questions to be answered which assist with the meditation. As a woman follows along, she can take notes. It might be difficult for a woman to absorb all of the material in one day. When she leaves the seminar, she takes her workbook, which contains her notes with reminders of the changes she would like to make in her life and home.

How do you organize each seminar?
Following an introductory talk, I have five additional talks that I give during the seminar. Even though I ask to hold off the questions to the end of each talk, I sometimes get a great deal of participation, and I am open to a limited number of interruptions.
I pray a great deal for the success of the seminars and also pray for all the women who come to the seminars. As a result, I go with what I think I am being led to speak about. Sometimes a given talk is longer; sometimes it is shorter.
The first talk is just the introduction to explain the Smart Martha concept and is titled “Having a Mary Home Doing Martha Tasks.” I give some practical advice to help women set those priorities in their lives so that they do seek to find Jesus.

Isn’t this a challenge in modern life?
Selecting those priorities is a real challenge for women today. Too often, we women fail to have our priorities straight. Sometimes, for example, we are more concerned about doing the dishes as opposed to another activity (like Martha). If we remember to look for Jesus, we will always choose the right task to do. I share with the group what other women have done that has been helpful for them to remember to look for Christ: for example, setting aside time for prayer, Bible studies and Eucharistic adoration.

What is the focus of your main talks? 
“Grand Central Station” is about organizing all of the comings and goings of everyone in one’s household. I allow for a great deal of adaptation to match different people’s personalities and budgets. For instance, some women prefer to be very organized and to have a file for everything. Other women are happy to just throw notes in a basket. We also discuss all the electronic/technical devices that can assist women today.
It is really helpful for women to hear how other women deal with these challenges. They could talk for hours. It is helpful for them to hear that other women have the same problems that they are having. There is a great deal of relief in that knowledge. They can also benefit from what other women have tried.
The third talk is titled “Conquering Mt. Laundry.” We discuss getting the laundry done because women frequently complain about the difficulty of getting the laundry done in a timely manner. I show them how to organize the laundry room in an efficient manner and what some other women have done about successfully handling the laundry. Along the way, I challenge women to remember to be a smart Martha. A few suggestions here would be to listen to Catholic radio or pray for the people whose clothes one is folding or simply to just do the task well.
The fourth talk is titled “Recapturing Dinnertime.” I am really, really big on having dinner together as a family. In our culture, family dinnertime has disappeared, but it is so valuable. Studies have shown how valuable it is for families to come together and to eat dinner together. As wives and mothers, we have to do whatever it takes to recapture that dinnertime — because it is such an important part of our families. It is important to instill good family values into our children, and dinnertime is a great opportunity to do that.
The fifth talk is titled “Taking Care of the Children.” We talk about toys, children’s rooms, memorabilia and managing “screen” time.
The sixth talk is titled “Keeping It All Clean.” I am really into keeping matters simple. I suggest an easy way to get all of our cleaning done, as well as ways to assign chores to family members. In order to keep the cleaning simpler, we need to get rid of items we don’t need. We all tend to collect so much stuff. Our culture is the opposite of the Franciscan model of simplicity. The culture is telling us that we have to buy everything and keep everything. It is good for women to hear another message — and that is to get rid of our stuff.
I also talk about how sometimes women feel as though they have had a breakdown experience and feel like throwing in the towel. They just feel like giving up. We explain that it is normal to feel that way, but it is important to put matters in perspective.
I also explain to women that they should not be afraid to ask for help. We women can’t do it all.

What is the take-home lesson?
The entire Mary-Martha story. For example, on the one hand, I am telling women how to organize their homes. Yet, on the other hand, I want women to find the time to spend with Jesus. Those sound like opposites, but what I really want is for women to meld these together: I encourage women to find Jesus in their prayer, work and play.

Joseph Albino writes from
Syracuse, New York.

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