How Do You Fill Your Lamp?
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” -Matthew 25:1-13
Like most of us, I have seasons when I am more attentive to my spiritual practices than others. The main growth I observed in myself through the years is that I catch myself sooner when something is out of balance. I recognize when I begin feeling a bit less grounded or frenetic. That awareness allows me to prioritize the things I know will help me regain a sense of God’s presence. The practices that most quickly reconnect me are time outside, contemplative prayer, cooking, exercise, and meaningful conversations with people I love.
This well-known parable of the bridesmaids asks us to imagine how we are preparing for the Kingdom of Heaven in an intentional way. Because we cannot know the hour that the bridegroom will arrive, it is a call to live in hopeful expectation and preparedness. If we take the numbers seriously, it suggests that half the time we are prepared and have what we need. The other half we have lost sight of what we might need and are unprepared. Those odds seem to indicate that having full lamps might be harder than it first sounds. I find that comforting in all honesty.
The parable isn’t a call to hyper-vigilance or frenetic adoption of spiritual practices though. All the bridesmaids can sleep while they wait. I suspect what the parable is really calling us to imagine is that we are sometimes wise and sometimes foolish. Perhaps if we reflect on our lives we begin recognizing when our lamps are full and when we are running on empty. The deeper message is that part of our own growth in God is to accept the responsibility of filling our own lamps. It is doing the hard work of saying a holy “no” here and there, so we have the time we need to be in the presence of God. The wise bridesmaids cannot share their oil with the foolish because it is not something you can do for someone else.
The pressures of our busy lives are real, and it is hard discerning how to attend to that which is most important. Several years ago, someone helped me reframe difficult choices by asking me to think about discerning my generosities. Where do I want to give myself most fully? Somehow that felt like a different question than seeking the ever-elusive state of balance, or triaging an overly full calendar, or shortening a list of obligations. To live in generosity is to trust the abundance that God has already gifted me. I don’t need to arrive at the wedding with six extra casks of oil. Nor do I need to be so depleted as to fail to bring the light I am called to bring. Instead, I can ground myself in ways that my lamp is filled and ready to receive the graces that God puts on my path. The Kingdom of Heaven is near. What helps you fill your lamp?