During my time down in Cuba, which was only a short 8 days, my elephant (rather, my heart) got a good swift kick for being lazy. A kick that, looking back, was well deserved. I had allowed my complacency to become comfortable, and that is a dangerous thing.
Bring in relationship with others is a two-way street, but more often than not, it’s a one-way street that sometimes switches directions. But a true relationship, goes both ways at all times, only changing to a one-way when it is most needed by one side and the other offers it. But those one-way stretches aren’t constant, they are agreed upon and done as needed, hopefully never.
Going down to Havana, I was on the track for a one-way road. I didn’t realize it, but I had set myself up that way. My elephant wasn’t just lazy, it was complacent: complacent to be the white, American, Christian woman who comes in as a voyeur into a new place, takes some pictures, smiles, enjoys the food, and then goes home to tell everyone how wonderful it all was. Well, I’ve come home, and it was wonderful, but it was also hard. Because in my own complacency I did not prepare myself. It was no one’s fault but mine.
In Matthew 25: 1-13, Jesus tells the parable of the 10 bridesmaids who took their oil lamps to meet a groom:
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil. When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “Look the groom! Come out to meet him!” Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, “Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.” But the wise bridesmaids replied, “No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids said, “Lord, lord, open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.
When we fail to prepare, we find ourselves to be foolish bridesmaids. We have no supplies and we don’t get into the party. I felt like a bridesmaid in Cuba; I had not prepared myself for a relationship with these people, yet here I was, expecting just that. And like those five bridesmaids who didn’t bring their oil, I found myself wanting. All from my own lack of preparation.
Here’s where grace comes (in the form of a small, feisty, Cuban woman).
Sometimes, if we’re lucky enough, someone calls us on our lack of preparation and our laziness. And then we’re even luckier and we actually listen.
This is where I found myself on that last Sunday morning. Staring into the face of a stern and feisty, but loving and kind, Cuban woman who I had come to admire and respect throughout our time together. “I am disappointed in you. You haven’t tried hard enough. You aren’t practicing or even trying to speak Spanish. It’s like you don’t care. You have to try, it is not enough just to come here. You have to try harder.” Reprimand and grace all in one.
I am trying hard to be more like those women who brought their oil. I’m trying to prepare myself. Most folks don’t get to go back so quickly and try again, but I I get a little more grace than I deserve, and I get to go back. So, this time, I’ll bring my oil.
No more complacent elephants.