Oh, it is so that as I read the saga of those bridesmaids my chest tightens just a little. For I have always worried about being ‘ready.’ No, perhaps not so much — maybe not enough even — about being ‘ready’ for the ultimate return of the ‘ bridegroom. But in the day-to-day I do know what it is to obsess over having everything in place.
This has surely been my experience over the last week as I have been pulling things together for a retreat I am co-leading next week. Oh, I know the material well and I have sketched out the parts of the Bible study I’ll be facilitating. However, this retreat has some hands on components as well, so there is more to do than just getting papers copied and collated. The group will, in fact, be baking bread — not just once, but twice, so I have been making lists of ingredients and baking pans, measuring cups and mixing spoons. Of course, we will be working in a fully stocked kitchen, but I am not fully confident they will have enough of what we will need, so I have been shopping and organizing and making notes of what to take from my own kitchen at the last-minute. I knew the other night that I was taking this all too much to heart when my anxiety invaded my dreams complete with scenarios where my lack of organization led to the group never getting to bake bread at all!
So I get something of the panic in the hearts of those foolish bridesmaids when they came to the night in question and they discovered they had no oil in their lamps and had to make a last-minute run to the corner shop to replenish their supply. I can only imagine their disappointment when finally they returned to discover that they had missed the big event altogether. Oh yes, I know what this feels like in the day-to-day and yes, I am familiar with the meaning of this in my life of faith as well. I know what it is to discover that I have run out of ‘oil.’
In fact, this came to me again just a few days back that my lamp was ‘dry.’ It had, quite simply, been a heartbreaking few days. (One would think that after nearly three decades in this work, one would no longer be surprised, but I was.) I am not at liberty to share the details, except for what it did to me. I walked away and I wept at the brokenness which had been visited on one innocent one and at my seeming inability to do anything but listen and pray and speak a reminder of God’s constant presence. And yet, it surely seemed like not nearly enough.
I was surprised that I slept well that night. I was not surprised as I entered into another busy day that it kept creeping into the edge of my consciousness. I was surprised that as I sat in my doctor’s office that afternoon waiting for my annual physical that the tears kept threatening to come. And yes, I was a little surprised that when my doctor asked how I was I told him. And in the next moments, for just an instance, my doctor became my pastor. Truly. For he spoke then of John 4 and urged me to return to the ‘fresh water’ which is always mine, always ours. In the image before us now, he held out the promise that the oil is always there for our lamps. All we have to do is receive it.
And isn’t this so? For today’s parable does not speak of there being a shortage of ‘oil for our lamps.’ It speaks only of those five bridesmaids forgetting that they would need it. As I sometimes do. As too often I do as well.
For oh, it seems to me that ‘keeping awake’ as we are told to do in Jesus’ words today is simply this. Knowing that we have all that we need as we ‘keep awake’ if only we will receive it. If only we will remember that we need it. If only we will remember that we have a constant source of ‘fresh water,’ a steady supply of precious ‘oil’ to help light our way. For we have already have Jesus as we await the ‘bridegroom’s’ return.’ We already have Jesus. If only we will pause long enough to recognize and receive this precious gift, it is already ours. All we have to do is fill our lamps.
And that has to be enough on those days when our hearts break at the pain and suffering in this world. For alone we cannot alter or change it. But we can keep our lamps full of oil. We can keep our lights shining as signs of promise and hope. We have more than enough to do this. And for now, isn’t that enough? And in the end, isn’t that really everything? Indeed, isn’t this what the world needs most of all?
- Do you identify with the bridesmaids’ lack of preparedness in your every day life? In your life of faith? Why or why not?
- When did you last recognize your lamp was running low on oil? How did you respond?
- When did someone (unexpected or not) last point you to the source of ‘fresh water’ or ‘oil for your lamp?’ What did they say or do?
- How might you even now allow your lamp to be refilled? For there is surely enough oil, enough hope, enough promise to carry us through. What would it look like for you to simply receive it?