Philippians 1:20-24, 27
…Why be envious because I am generous?
There was a growing young sapling within the forest. Every day it looked up and around at its greater cedar tree cousins and wondered how long he would take to get as big and grand as them. Nearby, an elder cousin groaned under the weight of his own branches and pined the days when his bark was not so gnarly, and his girth was much more supple. Both trees came from a long ancestry of ancient cedar and were accustomed to hearing storied accounts of their ancestors being lumbered for grand purposes – one became a huge boat that went on fishing adventures, one served as a heirloom rocking chair for five generations, and others were made into storage trunks destined for mysterious journeys across the Pacific Ocean.
Each young tree grew up longing in their very fibre to serve a mighty purpose one day, if they were only selected well by the lumberjacks and crafted lovingly in the hands of the craftsman who got them. If only…
There is genuine longing in each of our souls to meet with our life’s purpose. This question might start while we are young, or only descend into our hearts mid-life. Nonetheless, I believe at some primal level, we desire to give of ourselves and our talents in such a unique way as to know that we have accomplished something of great significance to our community and world. Something that bears our signature. Yet this clarity happens at such varied stations of our lives – detoured sometimes by hardships and distractions, or obscured by suffering and ignorance.
The parable of the vineyard landowner and the workers is echoed in the second reading of Philippians (1:20-24,27) where St Paul laments that as much as he was willing to to do God’s work, being alive painfully separates him from being united with Christ in death. It would seem that Paul is one of the vineyard’s earlier workers, although not the first group. Paul was a middle-aged convert, who spent the rest of his life serving the early church and encouraging all the newly converted to remain devoted and strong in their faith.
Indeed this parable is often used to illustrate God’s generosity and grace in giving the gift of salvation equally to all who seek and follow Him – no matter whether you knew Him all of your life, or only found Him at your deathbed. It seems like the later folks got the best deal, doesn’t it? The same rewards for the least amount of hard work. The life of faith would seem really unfair when measured this way.
Life to me, of course, is Christ, but then death would bring me something more… I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better, but for me to stay alive in this body is a more urgent need for your sake. (Philippians 1:20-24)
As I prayed over the parable of working in the vineyard, I saw the longer hours as the opportunity of more time working in the sacred mission that God would give me. Then, it seemed to me a most wondrous thing to be called earlier instead of later! I did not want to waste all that time standing idle around the town square. Being given a job, a direction, and a mission to accomplish, and having more time to live in the joys of fulfilment at the task – what blessedness that could be!
Presently, unlike the sapling in the story above, I feel more like the groaning middle-age cousin who has grown a little impatient with the ‘idleness’ and ‘rudderless’ movements I have been making. Do I want to be lumbered into a grand boat destined for adventure? I thought about it, and imagined St Paul as my spiritual guide… Suddenly it seemed most meaningful for myself to be made into thousands of simple wooden pencils to be picked up by little children, elderly, and just about anyone. I dreamt I might be the older tree, broken up and compressed into thousands of pencils – a humble writing instrument that intimidates no one and might sometimes just sit dusty, forgotten at the bottom of a pile of fancy pens.
Yet, one day, I will certainly be picked up by someone. Perhaps in the grip of someone like Mother Teresa, or a struggling writer, or a child learning to write… Imagining not the grandeur of complicated objects, I am now free to be small and willing and waiting, to be called upon, to be used, and to be sent.
“I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more.” – Mother Teresa, The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Abba Father, I want to be a willing instrument who serves You and Your sacred plan. Grant me the grace of humility and openness to become whatever You want me to be. I want to decrease so that You will increase.
Thanksgiving: Thank you for the chance to turn back to you at any point of my journey or detours.
Debbie – what a beautiful reflection. I am sharing it with friends. Thank you so much for your grace-filled insight. Your writing style always speaks to me.