When I think about the story of Mary and her alabaster box, I am struck not only by her action, but also by her position. She is on the ground—in pieces–at Jesus’ feet–unlike Simon who sits pridefully at Jesus’ side. The contrast between these two is stark. As a religious leader, Simon assumes a position of entitlement. He serves alongside Jesus as His equal and has no sense of the lordship of Christ. Mary, on the other hand, is demeaned by the religious leaders and scorned by her community. No one sees her as worthy of any position except the gutter. Yet, it is because of her position of disadvantage that she is esteemed by the Savior. “Blessed are the meek,” the Bible says, “for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Simon didn’t hunger or thirst. He was seated at the table! Mary was the uninvited guest, she had not been offered a plate.
Can you relate?
I know I can. I often feel like Mary as I pursue my dreams. Unlike others who are seated at the table, I’m on the ground in pieces! Struggling with writer’s block, daunted by writing challenges, uncertain how and unable to establish a platform. Like Mary, I’m not esteemed in this industry. Maybe I’m not scorned, but I’m certainly not visible!
But perhaps the lesson is that, rather than striving to sit at the table, I should, first, get down on the floor. Rather than chasing fame and glory, I should first be content with service and support. While society may snub their noses at the “meek,” turning my intentions away from my own objectives and towards another’s turns society’s logic on its head! That’s how it works, you know? It’s not that we’re destined to live in the pit, but that taking this posture prepares us for the palace. Without first being humble–maybe even humiliated, we may not be able to handle the challenges of success.
What encourages me is knowing that God sees. In fact, this story suggests that it is when I am the most vulnerable and the least able to help myself that he is able to do his greatest work! Could my disadvantage be an advantage? Mary’s was. Simon felt no need for a savior, so he received what he came for. Mary emptied herself in the puddle of perfume at Jesus’ feet and left the banquet in peace.
What will this look like in your own life? Think about emptying yourself first, then watch God fill you beyond what you thought possible!
They say patience is a virtue.But, it’s not a virtue that I naturally possess. When I want it, I want it now! Yet, immediacy and present action has been more of a wish than a reality for me over the years. For example, my plans to move immediately after I graduated from college dissolved into a settlement in my present location. My intentions to launch directly from school to a shining career have dragged through a meandering road of unexpected detours and traffic delays.
Yet, I’m told by the wise man that “for everything there is a season” …so I should not see these digressions as stumbling blocks but stepping stones. It’s just that when you’re a person who struggles with that patience virtue, it’s hard to conceive that the extended delay at the stop light is in any way a benefit to reaching the destination.
So, what is it with waiting? What is it about that pause, that is so helpful for the future?
And what about you creatives out there? Do you struggle with waiting?
When you sit at the canvas…
at the piano…
at the keyboard and wait…
for something: an image, an inspiration, a melody? a breakthrough?
Waiting can be hard. Yet, waiting does something…
It allows for preparation. If you’ve ever been in that weird space in between, you may remember what you learned. Just think back to middle school—that awkward educational, emotional and developmental space after elementary and just before high school. For some of us it may bring back nightmares of embarrassing moments, bad hair days and acne, but it was also a time of discovery. When the world was opening up, when we began to recognize ourselves as individuals and to establish our own sense of self. Granted, it was the beginning, but that safe space in between allowed us to prepare for the subsequent steps which would be more demanding.
Each phase of our lives is really a space between the previous one and the next which allows us time to learn from the past and anticipate the future. While it can be awkward, it is also comforting because we can take advantage of what we know while enjoying the freedom from what we don’t know. Let’s face it, sometimes the best part about middle management is passing the buck! (“Sorry, I’m not authorized to make that decision, you’ll have to ask my supervisor!”) Yet, watching what happens at the next level, keeping our eyes and ears open to what goes on at the front of the line allows us time to think about what works and what doesn’t.
While you’re waiting for inspiration to come, what can you learn from what you already know?
It facilitates maturation. You may not like being in middle school or “middle management” because, the other reality is that you’re often reminded of what you “can’t” do! You’re old enough to “know better” not old enough to have the keys. You have just enough power (knowledge or skill) to do lots of work, but not enough to get much credit for it. Those around you call the shots, make the decisions and hold your future in their hands. Waiting for your day is like watching grass grow! Yet, as those of us who survived middle school know, the years in between mark a period of significant change, growth and development. Our bodies and minds matured so much during that time that family and friends hardly recognized us by the end of it! The time of waiting may feel long, but it is necessary to facilitate this maturity. If our parents gave us the keys when we were 12, disaster would have certainly followed. But, within 4-6 years, we matured from those awkward middle stages into more mature (though still maturing) teenagers capable of greater responsibilities and independence.
As adults, moving from middle to upper management–or from novices to masters in our fields–may feel like a work of futility, but the work that we’re doing, the small steps we are taking, every task we complete is part of our maturation. We don’t notice it while it’s happening because the changes are imperceptible, but over time, the accumulation of every small effort—even unintentional ones—is contributing to our development until one day we’ll look up and, perhaps, not even recognize ourselves!
It builds anticipation. Then, when you’ve been in that middle zone long enough to see how it works, long enough to watch what’s next, long enough to study and prepare, you’ll feel that preparation welling up. What may have started out as fear will transform into energy. When you were a middle-school kid, you may have felt out of sorts–uncomfortable in your own skin. Maybe you worried what other people thought about you and cared what others said. But during the waiting you’ve had time to settle in. You’ve had time to observe the cycles, to see that people talk about what they admire and camouflage their jealousy with disdain. You understand leadership—that blind ambition clouds judgement, but humility covers a multitude of sins.
You’ve grown and matured. Now you’re ready for your shot.
You’re ready to take your place at the front of the line–to step out onto center stage. The time spent waiting is like wood stacked for a fire and the anticipation is a simmering cauldron on an open flame ready to explode!
In the movie The Pursuit of Happy-ness Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a man who is catapulted into one crisis after another as he attempts to attain his dream job and secure a stable and prosperous future for himself and his son. Always a half step away from homelessness Gardner, nonetheless, forges ahead, relentlessly pursuing.
To me, Chris Gardner epitomizes resilience and this movie based on his real life story has inspired me not to quit.
I am awe struck by the manner in which Gardner maintains his drive and determination in spite of what seem to be insurmountable odds. I am gripped by the image of this man, in full sprint, sweat pouring from him, as he feverishly chases after the impossible and improbable.
The odds were against him and his stakes were much higher than mine. Yet he never quit.
I say that writing is my passion, but when I observe the passion with which Chris Gardner pursued his dream, I realize that I have not pushed hard enough. I’ve given in to discouragement too easily. I’ve allowed those little voices in my head to tell me my time has passed; there’s nothing that I can contribute to the publishing world that hasn’t already been done–nothing to say that hasn’t already been said.
But, then there’s that scene in the movie when Gardner discourages his son from pursuing his love of basketball. “It’s not in you” Gardner tells him. “So don’t waste your time with NBA dreams.” The little boy drops his head and packs away his ball. How many times have I been that boy? Feeling like the world is shutting me down, telling me “don’t waste your time” and so I’ve packed away my pens and paper.
But then Gardner catches himself. Realizing the power of his words to either bring life–or death –to a son whose whole existence depends on his father–Gardner recants: “Hey,” he calls his son back. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do something, that you can’t achieve your dreams…not even me.”
And so, I return again to the writing desk. With no less sweat and tears than the man in full pursuit, I clamor for that prize–and so should you. Don’t let anyone–even you–tell you that you can’t. Let’s be like Chris Gardner and feverishly chase after the impossible and improbable. Because the real lesson of resilience is that happiness is in the pursuit!