In a recent therapy session, we talked about everything going on in the world. From pandemics and protests to family and the daily stresses in life. It can be so overwhelming, and my therapist replied, “That’s why self-care is important. It means taking care of yourself so you can be 100% when opportunities that really matter come along, instead of only having 50% to give.”
This reminded me of a story that Jesus told his disciples. The story begins in Matthew 25:
“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight, the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you; I don’t know you.’
“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”Matthew 25:1-14
It sounds like Jesus favors the prepared, but what does it mean to be prepared for the kingdom of God? I don’t think it means keeping a lamp burning and a pantry full of oil jars. Look at the previous verses:
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”Matthew 24:45-51
We aren’t just sitting and waiting, but we are called to take care of the things God has put in our charge. Friends, family, community. And sometimes these things can come in the form of unexpected opportunities. Like a bridegroom at midnight.
I think that the burning lamps are like our influence, our responsibilities to love others in various ways.
And what is the oil that keeps that flame going? My ability alone to l love isn’t sustainable, but God’s love is. And the only way I can utilize the love of God to love others is to stay connected to Him. I need my jar of oil to keep that lamp of love burning. Whether it is spending time in prayer, in study, in meditation, in nature, in Holy conversation, in Spirit-led sacrifice, I must continue to remain connected to God. Maybe that means slowing down, getting less busy, making more room, but whatever it takes, I need to stay connected.
It is vital to my survival. Because when hard things happen, when needs arise in my community, in the places that God has entrusted to me, even in small ways, I want to give my all. I want to lean on the strength of the Spirit to accomplish the things He has planned for me. And I can only do that if I bring that jar, if I devote that time to keeping that light burning.
Maybe you are feeling spent, exhausted, depleted. There is a God who is present and waiting to fill your jar with oil, to keep that light from going out. Because the suffering and injustice will not go on forever, it is nearing midnight and bridegroom is on his way.