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Life as Lou

Stress, The Parable of the Talents, And You Bet Your Boots This Is One Of Those Posts Written For My Own Edification

  • October 8, 2012 9:44 pm

The woman in this photo is more stressed out than she looks.

Shortly before the Air Force moved us to South Dakota, I had an evening where the stress of the move and the impending unknown brought me to my knees in tears.  I am pretty sure that every military wife has some version of this moment before moving.  I was happy about moving, for the most part. The other part of me, the part that sparked the emotional meltdown, was made up entirely of fear.  It usually is.

I ended up in my bedroom with the door shut, on my knees, trying to put into words the near panic attack that was going on in my brain. There were the usual concerns of stuff breaking and housing being impossible to set up, and then the “what ifs” set in and the rest of the prayer went something like this. “What if no one likes me? What if I end up hating it there? What if I’m unhappy? What if everyone I meet thinks I’m an incompetent loser and WHAT IF THEY’RE RIGHT!!!?” It was with this very mature and self assured thought that I opened my eyes, not even formally closing my prayer, eyes bugging out, staring blindly at my bedspread while contemplating this new horror I hadn’t even allowed myself to verbalize during all of my mental rants.

It was at that moment, while I was dangling on the precipice of a self loathing induced nervous breakdown that I heard a very quiet, gentle voice inside my mind say, “Leah.  Don’t worry.  I’ll put you to work.”

And then I smiled. My Savior knows me, and because of that, as it says in scripture, He knows precisely how to succor me in my time of need. Only someone who knew me very, very intimately would give this perfect answer that I wasn’t expecting. I have such a defining need to be useful, and have learned the lesson that work is a blessing many times over. I do not cope well with idleness.  I also know that the very best way to end a pity party is to get up and go be of service to someone else. That is the recipe for true happiness, and that is why so much of Christ’s teachings focus on the importance of giving service.  He wants us to be happy.

I used to think that the commandment to give service was for the benefit of others and society.  Caring for the sick, the poor and the lonely is just good sense if you want a functioning community.  But I understand that the Savior didn’t give any commandments that weren’t for our direct benefit.  The gift of being able to work and serve others is a gift given for our own edification- and ultimately our sanctification.  If the point of being here on this earth is to become more like Jesus Christ, then giving loving service could probably be considered Christianity 101.

That’s all fine and dandy, isn’t it?  Well, what about when you hit that other wall where the work God has blessed you with seems like more than you can actually manage?  What if no matter how hard you try, and how faithful and diligent you’ve been you still fall short and never quite get to where you meant to be? What if you’ve got so many things on your plate that your head is actually starting to spin and you think you might crack sooner rather than later?

That’s where I was last night.  Actually, that’s where I’ve been for several days. God has most definitely kept His promise to “put me to work,” and vastly exceeded my expectations of what that was going to entail. And that’s great!  It’s just hard, and frequently I don’t know what I’m doing. I have been assuring myself for several weeks now that His grace would be sufficient in all things I am trying to do right now, because I know that the things I am using my life up on are what God would have me do. And that is true. Knowing you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, and knowing that He will make up the difference because you are doing your best is a huge comfort.

But even then, because I have some really unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies, I can still become completely overwhelmed. And then God blesses me.  I was reading in Matthew 25 last night while prepping a seminary lesson I need to teach this week when I ended up going over the parable of the talents. Initially, I glanced at it, thought I already understood it, and started to move on- and then something told me to stop and go back. I read that parable with completely new eyes last night. (Go figure- I’m doing service by teaching seminary, and it’s blessing me.  Case in point.)

To sum up (although I recommend you just go read verses 14-30 via the Matthew link above): The lord gave three of his servants each some talents (a unit of money). One got five, one got two and one got one. The first two were industrious and made the most of what they had, ultimately doubling what they started with.  The servant’s master was pleased, called them good and faithful, and made them rulers over many things.  The last guy took his talent, buried it in the earth and failed to benefit himself or anyone else with it, and had nothing more to present to his lord. The lord said this servant was wicked and slothful, took back the one talent, and cast the servant out.

It is so very, very easy to take this parable, turn monetary talents into the talents we have been blessed with and say: Use ‘em or lose ‘em, and while you’re using them, do so in a way that benefits God, and makes you worthy of being called good and faithful.  End of story. (See? I can be succinct when I want to.)

So what was new last night? It all started when this very overwhelmed woman read the verse that states:

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

All I could think was that I absolutely did not want to be made ruler or given any more responsibility than I already had. What kind of reward was that? This is pretty childish, but understandable.  When you’ve just spent a half an hour in prayer, bemoaning your pathetic capacity to handle the many things that are stressing you out, the answer you want is not, “I’m going to bless you with even more of that!”

Then I read further on, and saw what the underachieving third servant had to say to justify how he had manged things:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

I was afraid. Did that ever jump out at me. I was afraid, too. Afraid of having any more on my plate.  So afraid of failing at what I had been given (not just talents, but time, energy, and the very breath in my body- everything the Lord gave me) that I was actually ready to turn down the opportunity to make more of myself.  No thanks, Lord, you can keep all that extra stuff and I’ll just try to return the basic gift of myself to you intact, no worse for wear- but no better.  Don’t you just hate it when you read the scriptures and realize that you’re the equivalent of the third servant?

Before I had time to feel too badly about this, I looked over the parable again and saw the beauty behind verse nineteen.

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

After a long time . Perfection, or even being wildly profitable isn’t required now. While there certainly will be a reckoning of how I spent my time and energy and what I made of myself- that’s not today. The story isn’t over. I have time. Not time to be lazy and slothful and a big chicken, but time to work on things and get better. Time to have faith.

 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliverdest unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

I have gained. It also struck me that both of the good and faithful servants simply reported their work as having gained. It didn’t matter that one had ten and one had four, they had both gained. There was no perfect number of talents, no lofty goal to hit before you could be considered good and faithful. Good and faithful servants gain. They grow. They do a little better each day. The point is not perfection- it’s progression.  I can look at myself and honestly report that I, too, have gained. Do I have it all together? No. But I have it more together than I did before.  Maybe I’m not quite so third servant, after all.  Let’s look at that verse that had me scared earlier.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Two thoughts:

1: Since I’m here trying to learn to be more like Jesus, it is valuable to note that this exercise in “gaining” is really just practice helping me to be more like Him.  Everything the Savior puts His hand to is made more. Loaves and fishes, a repentant heart, fishermen into apostles. Christ magnifies everything, including me.  In a very small way, that is what He is teaching me to do.

2: It’s not about the level of responsibility.  It isn’t about how much or how worthwhile what I do amounts to.  It doesn’t matter how fast I do what I’m supposed to do. It matters that what I do is done joyfully. It all goes back to that original blessing of happiness.  God lets me serve because He wants me to be happy, so rather than asking to do things better or faster or smarter, I would be wise to ask Him to help me live my life with more joy. Joy is the end goal of life, as well as the sustaining force that can carry us through.

And I knew this before.  I just needed reminding.

1 Comment

  1. Erica says:

    “It’s not about the level of responsibility. It isn’t about how much or how worthwhile what I do amounts to. It doesn’t matter how fast I do what I’m supposed to do. It matters that what I do is done joyfully.” This may have been for you – but it was also just for me. thank you – this blessed my spirit more than I expected and I feel refreshed! You are amazing.

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