Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Martha to the Max: Balanced Living for Perfectionists

Martha to the Max: Balanced Living for Perfectionists

by Debi Stack

See All Formats & Editions

Like the Martha of Jesus' day, so many women are preoccupied with being the perfect hostess, wife, mother, worker that it leaves many of them angry, frenzied, and depressed. In Martha to the Max, Debi Stack uses humor to bring great relief and encouragement to today's Marthas. This entertaining adventure will help readers view and use their abilities in a


Like the Martha of Jesus' day, so many women are preoccupied with being the perfect hostess, wife, mother, worker that it leaves many of them angry, frenzied, and depressed. In Martha to the Max, Debi Stack uses humor to bring great relief and encouragement to today's Marthas. This entertaining adventure will help readers view and use their abilities in a way that brings a smile to the face of God. Debi gives plenty of practical tips on slowing down and focusing on the 'one thing' Jesus said is needed.

Product Details

Moody Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Martha to the Max

Balanced Living for Perfectionists

By Debi Stack

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2000 Debi Stack
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57567-518-3


I Was Sinking Deep in Sin (Whee!)

Every office has its Twilight Zone. The closet or stock area from which unwitting employees never return.

For me, it was the storage room at the ministry where I worked in the 1980s. A vast, untamed jungle of leaning shelves, twisted Venetian blinds, mildewed boxes, and reams of worthless records. Dust covered the new supplies, which covered the old supplies, which covered the chipped-tile floor from wall to wall.

Teresa, my co-worker, best friend, and a die-hard workaholic herself, took the initiative. We walked down the ministry's main hall to the last room on the left. (Isn't there a horror movie about such a location?) She turned on the light switch. One florescent bulb out of four flickered and hummed overhead, as if to say, "I can't hold on much longer!" Teresa swept the storeroom with a disdainful eye, then turned to me.

"This storage room is pathetic."


"No one cares about this room. Everyone just crams stuff in here that really belongs in the trash."


"No one can find supplies when they need them, so they just order new ones. And the few important records the ministry needs can't be found because of all the junk piled on top of them. This room" (which she said in the "That dog!" tone pet owners use during the housebreaking stage) "is a source of stress and shame to everyone."

I brightened at a new thought. "And it's a fire hazard!"

Teresa brightened, too. "You're right. It's up to us to do something."

She didn't have to ask me twice. I'd been longing after that room with every color-coded gene in my body since I first opened its door.

At 7:00 A. M. one Saturday, we started cleansing the temple. We worked like fevered priests, purging the inner sanctum of disorganization and debris.

"Can you believe some of this stuff?" Teresa asked as she held up a bowling ball. "Why did anyone think this belonged in here?"

"Beats me," I muttered from under a sagging worktable where I'd found five cartons of shrink-wrapped letterhead—all with outdated addresses. "Some people don't have a clue about what to keep and what to throw away."

When we broke for lunch that afternoon at three o'clock, we didn't put our feet up and relax. While we ate yogurt and granola bars, we pored over office supply catalogs. The glossy pages of lateral file cabinets, storage bins, and label makers inspired us to transform the musty storage tomb into a well-lighted showcase of our organizational ability.

This project took more than one Saturday. We postponed hauling black trash bags of junk to the dumpsters until dark lest an observant pack rat try to stop us. Why did someone keep 582 leftover brochures from a fund-raiser in 1973? We kept 10 in a labeled folder, which went in the new box for the 1970–75 archives. Why did someone keep an office chair with three wheels and no back? We ordered an ergonomically smart new one on sale and got free shipping to boot.

At last, the day arrived to unveil this wonder to the other staff members. Their wide-eyed awe of the transformed room rewarded our efforts. Crisp-lettered signs hung everywhere, pointing out the obvious. Our guided tour of the new storage room had a condescending tone.

"See this bin with the label marked 'pens'? All the pens are in this bin."

The glory lasted for about a week. Teresa and I fumed and grieved over the shameless treatment of our crowning achievement.

"Why can't they put things back where they belong?"

"They don't see the obvious."

"Nothing gets done around here unless we do it ourselves."

"They don't care."

"Why do we even bother to make things nicer?"

We had a serious "us versus them" complex based not on color, sex, race, or religion but on personality type: A versus B.


Back in the 1980s, you could hardly pick up a magazine, tune in a radio station, watch a talk show, or read the New York Times best-seller list without finding at least one reference to the Type A personality. Describing the same personality type today, you might find buzzwords like driven, perfectionist, workaholic, overachiever, tireless servant, superwoman, mover and shaker, power-hungry, and obsessive compulsive. (Since Marthas are always interested in saving time, let's call that last one "O-C" for short.) Most of these terms are self-explanatory, but O-C may be new to you. Here's a quick definition.

Individuals with this particular cluster of personality traits tend to be conscientious, self-sacrificing, organized, perfectionistic, and devout.

Ooo! I like that! No wonder Teresa and I joined the "Type A, O-C, Martha-to-the-Max" union on the spot. Not only did we admire these qualities, we exemplified them beautifully in our storage room project.

Being conscientious and discerning (or uptight and judgmental, depending on your perspective), Teresa and I saw everything as perfect or putrid, right or wrong. So, because we were Type A's, we were right. That made everyone else a Type B, and it also made them (you guessed it) wrong. Simple, isn't it? Had we read this definition further, we might not have been so proud of ourselves since it calls perfectionism a "difficulty" and says Type A people are more prone to burnout, depression, and other not-so-good things. And all the while, Teresa and I thought perfectionism was a coveted personality trait bestowed upon a blessed few. Had we the power, we would have injected a dose of it into most other people we knew. So, while the terms may change to suit trends, the behavior —and its problems—is as timeless as ever.


Of course Teresa and I were superior. As classic perfectionists, we easily spotted ways to improve everything. We planned ahead. We made lists. We designed charts. We skipped lunch. We worked overtime without pay. We proudly did the work of two or three people each. And we considered the Type B's surrounding us as our cross to bear on earth.

The Type B's didn't have a clue about time management. As classic social butterflies, organization to them was not a thing to do but a thing to join for the nifty membership pin and free refreshments. They viewed deadlines as suggested time frames to begin a project, not have it done. They actually sat around and talked during lunch. They left work promptly at 5:00 P. M. each afternoon. They drove us nuts.

Teresa and I piously comforted each other with the assurance that in heaven, there will not be "types" of people because we'll all be the same. Then she asked the question that began changing my life: "Are they going to be like us, or are we going to be like them?"

Whoa! Me? Demoted to be like them? It would be like having my wings clipped; being exiled to an alien planet; being a writer who's run out of similes.

Then a verse came to mind about what happens when we reach heaven: "We will be like Him." That sounded to me as if all believers will be like Christ. But my ever-evaluating mind wanted to know who would have to change the most to be like Christ— the Type A's or the Type B's? Certainly if heaven is perfect and Christ is perfect, then perfectionistic Type A's would require little improvement compared to the lackadaisical Type B's.

Then another verse came to mind: "Pride goes before destruction."


That scenario of perfectionistic behavior took place in the early 1980s, and I still can't decide whether to be proud or ashamed of it. Sure, I got a lot done and people commended me for my outstanding work ethic. But the short-lived glory was just a thin coating over a constant feeling of doom. Before me, I saw endless projects needing to be done. Behind me, I saw endless projects needing to be redone. And there I was in the middle—spinning my workaholic wheels as fast as I could, but not daring to stop and ask why.

Have you ever felt that way? Do you feel that way now? If so, you probably also fear, as I did, that life will always be this way. The light burden and easy yoke Jesus spoke of sounds wonderful—and completely unrealistic. After all, how can we rest when there is so much work to be done? And why in the round world don't the Type B people around us share our urgency to complete project after project?

We're not the first women to ask this question. First-century Bethany in Palestine boasted its own resident, Type A, workaholic woman. This powerhouse sister of Mary and Lazarus often opened her home to Jesus when He traveled near Jerusalem. Frustrated with shouldering all the happy hostess work herself (again), Martha asked Jesus why He didn't light a fire under her starry-eyed sister Mary so she'd help, too. His reply has been nagging me for years:

"Martha, Martha, ... you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

So what's wrong with Martha wanting to be a good hostess? I totally understand her wanting her environment to be ordered, her home to be spotless, and her projects to be flawless.

But such lofty expectations, I've since learned, often create a cycle of anger, frenzied work, and depression. Why don't the people around me notice what obviously needs to be done? Why don't they appreciate my self-sacrificing efforts to make things better? Why, no matter how hard I work, can I not achieve perfection, let alone maintain it?

If you've asked these same questions of yourself, consider this book a personal letter to you, written with the heartfelt love and hard-earned insight from me and other Christian women who've lived, and are still living, the struggle between naturally being like Martha and choosing to be like Mary.

Like Martha, I am tempted to perfect my own personal kingdom, not seek the kingdom of God. Like Martha, I tend to view life as a series of projects, not a path toward knowing and serving Christ.

And yet, the inherent perfectionistic Martha-qualities are there by God's design.

Eric Liddell, the 1930s Olympic runner profiled in the award-winning movie Chariots of Fire, said, "The Lord made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure." The challenge for Marthas today regarding their abilities is to view them and use them in a way that brings a smile to the face of God.


There's one in every family.

This is the person who gets the most mileage out of travel plans by obsessing over uncontrollable details way in advance—fuel prices, traffic flow, the weather. "Sorry kids, but I'm canceling the road trip to Yosemite. There's a cloud in the sky somewhere over Nebraska. It's just not worth the risk."

Departing from a maxed-out lifestyle toward unknown territory may raise some worries in your mind, too. While it may feel safer to stay on familiar home ground, doing so means missing out on all kinds of wonderful stuff. Breathtaking vistas. Heart-stopping natural wonders. A set of toothpick holders imprinted with "DELBERT'S TRUCK STOP."

Besides stocking up on antacids, plan to encounter lots of detours, delays, and orange barrels. Why? Because far from being a straight and smooth superhighway, the path toward discovering the "one thing" that Jesus told Martha was needed is a bumpy, meandering road under construction. Though I looked long and hard for a shortcut to the "one thing," none could be found. Along the way, though, I discovered things about myself, my perceptions, my relationships, and my health that I'll share with you. They include:

— insight into how we get ourselves so maxed out

— the similarities between Martha of Bethany and us

— the surprising source of perfectionism

— a predictable pattern to overworking and burnout (plus how to overcome it!)

— how to relax even when we're not in the mood and don't have time

— freedom from the maxed-out lifestyle

— and more!

So read on. Watch me go over the bumps, miss my exit, and run out of gas. Eventually, I find what I believe to be the "one thing" Jesus spoke of. When you find it, too, I think you'll agree that all those orange barrels are worth their weight in gold.


Testing, Testing ... How Much of a Martha Are You?

Hold it right there.

If you're one of those types of people who think there aren't any types of people, you probably never went to camp as a kid.

At camp, where attendees are supposed to become one peaceful tribe, warring bands form shortly after arrival. Kids who have never seen each other before mysteriously break into types and gravitate together. The renegade girls who sneak in with cigarettes and out with boys somehow find each other. The brainy boys who handle snakes and compasses with equal ease, if not equal skill, find each other too. ("Sheldon! Quick! Before you pass out, which way is north and how do we make a tourniquet?")

Even if the kids didn't naturally group together, their counselors would do it for them. Imagine what would happen at a Bible camp with a Twenty-third Psalm theme. A camp leader tweets her whistle and gives orders on which kids go to which cabins.

"All first-timers who've never even spent the night at your grandma's house and are trying really hard not to cry, line up and follow your counselor to the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

"Bed wetters, follow your counselor to My Cup Runneth Over.

"Campers who, against policy, have smuggled banned items of any kind, including tobacco and electronics, will bunk with me, the camp director, and her pit bull in The Presence of My Enemies."

What's that you say? You never went to camp? Certainly you've watched television!

TV scriptwriters have long used personality conflict as the basis of both drama and comedy. Remember the Clampetts from The Beverly Hillbillies? Their backwoods upbringing was comical because it was plopped into a refined and elegant setting. And don't forget the Douglases from Green Acres. Their cultured New York background made their new life in Hooterville a real hoot. Leaving those fictional families in their original settings, surrounded by others who thought and acted exactly as they did, wouldn't have been even a fraction as funny.

Watching these characters interact (and in some cases, overact) is entertaining. But living the same kind of personality conflict in the real world is not. If you're a project-oriented Type A Martha who's ever butted heads with a people-oriented Type B Mary, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It's awful. It's irritating. It's like chewing foil. But it's not incurable! As we move together through this book, we'll learn how to minimize the stressful "us versus them" attitude.

But for now, since I have systematically proven from backbreaking, in-depth research that yes, indeed, there are definite types of people in the world, I deserve to take a short break. The only question remaining is, should I watch Gilligan's Island or I Dream of Jeannie?


Grouchy as a bear. Meek as a mouse. Strong as an ox. Cold as a fish.

Distant. Emotional. Workaholic. Bum.

Introvert. Extrovert.

Type A. Type B.

We ever-evaluating Marthas size up others everywhere we go and slap labels on them before you can say "self-righteous." I've always done this while priding myself that I'm not like all those other Christians who use personality type as sanctified horoscopes to pigeonhole, prophesy, and pass judgment.

"He obviously lacks motivation."

"Their marriage won't last. Everyone knows their temperaments don't mix."

"She overeats because she's introverted."

"Type A's are better than Type B's because they get the job done, and done right the first time." (Well, that one's true, isn't it?)

You know from reading so far that I consider myself a Type A, Martha person. Probably you consider yourself to be a Martha, too. There are literally hundreds of personality and temperament tests available, and I could have used one of those in this book, but why take the easy way out? True to my Martha nature of doing and redoing everything myself, I made my own test.

Please remember that the test below, and, yea, verily, this whole book, is written for Christian women who are maxed out with perfectionism and can't remember the last time they had a good laugh at themselves. This book is not intended for readers who are so consumed by perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive behavior that simple daily functions are continually disturbed. If you have crossed the line between these two, please seek help from a qualified professional. The resources today are wonderful and plentiful! Even better, the love, mercy, and healing grace of God are available to you in unlimited measure. A list of starting places is in chapter 18, "Resources".


Excerpted from Martha to the Max by Debi Stack. Copyright © 2000 Debi Stack. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Martha to the Max caused me to laugh myself right into conviction.  yikes, I had no idea there were so many of us pick, pick, picking our way through life.  And even though I like things orderly -okay, okay, perfect - I don't care for the internal pressurization that comes with it.  Nor does my family who has been at times the recipients of my friendly fire when they didn't measure up.  Join me if you too are tied up in perfect knots and together we' allow "Martha" to help us loosen up before we all unravel.
- Patsy Clairmont, Woman of Faith speaker and author of Stardust on my Pillow

With her engaging conversational and humorous style, Debi Stack leads her readers out of perfectionism and into grace, out of a high-pressure, wearying lifestyle into one with more balance and joy.  This book will be a welcome read for maxed out women!
- Cheri Fuller, Speaker and author of When Mothers Pray

Many times in my life I have felt as Martha did - overwhelmed with details and demands, trapped in working and worry, empty of purpose and peace.  If you know those same feelings all too well, Martha to the Max is for you.  Debi Stack is an extraordinary communicator who understands the struggles and the stress associated with perfectionism, yet her insights are infused with energy, humor, and most of all, hope.   This book is destined to become a classic for maxed out women everywhere.
- P. Bunny Wildon, Speaker and author of Liberated Through Submission

You could call this book right-on-target, relevant, timely, convicting, helpful, incisive, playful, entertaining, therapeutic, or just-what-the-doctor-ordered, but you will have to choose your own words, because I'm too busy laughing!
-Richard A. Swenson, M.D., Author of The Overload Syndrome

Ours is a world of frenzied activity.  From childhood to old age, we live in a constant rush of doing.  In Martha to the Max, Debi Stack humorously convinces us that who we are in Christ counts infinitely more than all the works we do.  Let this book change your life.  If you read it seriously, it will!
-Grace Ketterman, M.D., Author of The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care

Debi Stack has struck a nerve and has shed needed light on the area of "perfectionism."  I have to admit to being a Martha to the Max.  However, this book has helped me see the need to not only mellow and moderate my expectations but has also motivated me to continue my pursuit of the "better focus."  This book is a compassionate, yet poignant exhortation to the "Martha's" in our lives.
-Annie Chapman, Author, with Steve Chapman, of Wednesday's Prayer

For those who struggle with expecting perfection from themselves and others, this book offers some wonderful advice.  Debi Stack is masterful with her insights into the famous Martha in the Bible, and with humor and knowledge, she gives us a more in-depth understanding of her.  This book can bring back the joy that is often missing in the lives of those who strive to do everything to the max, and in the doing, place great burdens on themselves and unrealistic expectations on others.  It also provides understanding for those who live or work with a perfectionist.  Debi is a good writer, but she is more than that.  She writes with practical understanding and biblically based solutions.
-Mary Whelchel, Author of The Christian Working Woman and The Snooze-Alarm Syndrome

As a recovering Martha (not cured, just in remission) and the author of a book about perfectionism, I appreciate Debi's light-hearted yet powerful insights.  She offers practical and life-changing wisdom so that we can find the balance we need.  In her book, you'll find the meaning ofthe "one thing" Jesus refers to and you'll discover peace.
-Kathy Collard Miller, Author of Why Do I Put So Much Pressure on Myself?

Debi is one of the most talented writers in today's market.  Martha to the Max is witty and intelligent and fun, but the message does not get lost in the cleverness.  Debi gives me hope that God has a special place in His heart for us overcommitted, underappreciated, stressed-out-21st-century moms.
-Rhonda Wheeler Stock

Martha to the Max is a fun, fresh, and fast read full of insight for recovering perfectionists that is both practical and applicable while leading her to the "one thing that will never be taken away."
-Marita Littauer, President CLASServices, Inc., Speaker/Author, Personality Puzzle, Come As You Are, You've Got What It Takes

What a delight!  In the fast paced, dot com world in which I live and work, Martha to the Max provided me with the tools to delete some unnecessary programs (and files) still on my "heart" drive.  I giggled, gulped, winced, and sighed relief as Debi led me to a better understanding of myself.  While a perfectionist like myself doesn't often experience warm fuzzies--it seems like I experienced at least one on every page as Debi seemed to rewind and fast forward through my life journey--replaying for me many of the same Martha-inducing experiences I knew as a child, teen, young adult, and parent.  While I just loved her engaging and witty style, perhaps the greatest gift Debi provides is the biblical and practical solutions for containing our Type A personalities.  I WILL recommend this book to our readers--and giggle as I do.
-Jennifer and Philip Rothschild, Publishers, WomensMinistry.net . . . your source for women's ministry news events, ideas, and speakers.

A classic "been there, don't do that" handbook, Martha to the Max illustrates with humor and sensitivity Debi Stack's rise from the ashes of burnout, while offering a cool drink of water to those still morphing into Marthahood.
-Cheryl Gochnauer, recovering perfectionist and author of So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

For those of us who struggle with putting our "work" before our "worship"--I highly recommend Martha to the Max.
-Jan Brown, Interactive Producer, Christianity Online (Christianity Today, Inc.), Author of Meet Me at the Well

Martha to the Max is a must-read for today's busy Christian woman.  With the scriptural insight of a careful Bible scholar, the graphic metaphors of an accomplished wordsmith and the passion of one who's walked in Martha's sandals, Debi Stack presents a solid antidote to the project-filled, control-oriented lifestyle of so many Christian women and men.  I've studied Martha and preached about her for years, but I learned a lot from reading Debi's book.  It's packed with potentially life-changing insights for the Marthas of the New Millenium.
-Don Hawkins, Cohost, Back to the Bible

You are an incredible treat.  Any woman who has struggled with overcommitment, stress, and perfectionism will find hilarity, help and especially hope in these pages.  Readers will enjoy Debi's fact paced storytelling while they gain new tools for managing their maxed out lifestyles.  I will be recommending this often in my counseling practice.
-Dr. Chuck Lynch, Author of I Should Forgive, But . . .

Meet the Author

DEBI STACK is an award winning author, professional speaker and popular media guest who uses humor to address women who struggle with over-commitment, perfectionism and stress. She desires to inspire them to lighter hearts and deeper faith. Debi is the author of Martha to the Max, Smotherly Love, Kisses of Sunshine for Women, and Kisses of Sunshine for Grandmas. She has also served as an editor, teacher and ghostwriter and has been featured in numerous magazines and on media programs around the country. Debi and her husband, Neal, have two children and one grandchild. They live in Missouri.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews