This past week in class, I fell down the comparison hole. By which I mean, feeling like a failure when I start comparing myself to others. I learned about an organization called Thistle Farms. A residential program in Nashville for women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction started by an Episcopal Priest, Becca Stevens. The founder also has published ten books, and started other organizations as well. That old devil/ego knows just how to drag me down into the pit. What have I done with my life? I can barely manage a blog and no one is clamoring to publish anything I’ve written. I’ve helped a few individuals, but hardly on the scale of an organization that has helped thousands. How could I do something like that? Should I go back into the law? What am I doing here in seminary anyway?
When I brought my feelings of inadequacy to my prayers the next day, I saw Mary and Martha. Martha, as in Scripture, complained to Jesus that Mary wasn’t helping. Instead, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. I heard Jesus tell her that Mary had chosen the better part and he wouldn’t take that from her. Having spent most of my life as Martha, I realized that I was Mary for a change, and Spirit was reassuring me. Sometimes we need to be the person who sits and listens. And it can look like we’re doing nothing, when in fact, we’re doing something quite important. In this world where productivity and being busy is so prized, it was a prescient reminder that productivity is not all there is. It’s shocking when these moments happen in prayer. When Spirit so clearly speaks to me. Undoubtedly my Martha time will come again, but if I spend more time in contemplation like Mary, I’ll be able to hear the direction more clearly.
In case I hadn’t heard the message clearly enough, Spirit had more to convey. The next day I ran into my supervisor from my field education site, Francie. She started a retreat house on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. If I took anything away from that experience, it was seeing how powerfully the Spirit works when you’re listening and letting go of trying to control the outcome.
When the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton asked Francie to start the Retreat House, he had an unfinished building on a piece of property that no one knew what to do with. But he had a vision. She hadn’t done anything like running a retreat house before, but had recently finished her Masters of Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary and agreed to give it a try. In the beginning, she went to the building each day, sat inside and prayed, unsure of how to begin. After a few days, a neighbor walked in telling her that she often walked around the property and wondered about the building. Francie told her what she was doing and the neighbor offered to help. They sat and prayed together. Slowly, more people appeared and the retreat house took off and grew in ways no one could have imagined.
When I ran into her, she told me about a mysterious donation that had appeared in their account just when some programming work they had been doing was coming to an end. She had been wondering how they were going to make up for that loss of income, but the donation tripled it. It was so random and fortuitous that she wondered if someone had made a mistake. Probably not. Yet another reminder of how Spirit works.
When I told her about my anxiety about my comparisons to others, she reminded me that I am still in school. I don’t need to do more than that. I am, of course, also still adjudicating citizen complaints against the police, working as a chaplain at the hospital, involved on campus and at my own church and, as much as possible, trying to maintain my family relationships and friendships. Like most people, I feel like I’m dropping the ball, most especially on the relationship end of things. When I write it all down it sounds like a lot, but in the grand scheme, it feels like the smallest of drops in the bucket. Nothing like Thistle Farms. Running into Francie though reminded me that everything starts from a tiny place. Starts from taking the time to be like Mary.
I experienced yet another small reminder of how the Spirit works the next morning as I was searching the house for my earbud before walking my dog, Bea. As I was looking, Bea walked up, wanting to be pet. And when I bent down to pet her, there they were. They had fallen on the ground from where I’d left them the night before and I doubt I would have spotted them. Finding them in that way felt like the Spirit. As I say this out loud, I know many will think this is ridiculous. Why would Spirit care about my headset? – I’m still missing my car key, which seems a lot more important. Yet, it still felt like a little reminder of how God works, not always in obvious ways, but sometimes through our dog asking to be pet.