The question asked in this our 2nd of 8 question posed from the pews, is one that everyone struggles with to one degree or another—especially those who have a have a role as a caregiver—either officially or unofficial, in a paid capacity or an unpaid one.
Today’s question is this: “How do we balance our own happiness with the happiness of others?”
Now I did talk with the person who put this question in the box—to get a clearer idea of what was meant.
And this question’s author pointed out something really insightful
—when pastors preach, we frequently preach about self-sacrifice, about serving our neighbor in need, even if, maybe even especially when, that service is costly, when it’s hard and risky.
At the same time, when the preacher acts pastorally, when we counsel or listen to a parishioner’s problems, so frequently, we recommend self-care, we switch from self-sacrifice to self-preservation.
And this wasn’t just me as Pastor, but every pastor the questioner had interacted with.
So, what’s the balance? What’s the faithful way to weight self and other?/ sacrifice and self-care?
The danger in this question
—is a common danger
—it starts with an assumption of scarcity.
It’s as if there is only so much…
So much goodness, happiness, joy
Only so much to go around.
That either my cup is full and other people’s cup is empty, or their cup is full and my cup is empty.
It’s as if happiness is a commodity, to be bought and sold with our time and effort and even money.
Down that line of reasoning lies a place where happiness is horded—saved in little boxes to be savored alone…
But that’s not the nature of happiness.
Happiness isn’t water to fill a glass with, but an ocean to swim in, as our cup overflows.
Happiness isn’t an item to be bought or sold, but a gift that is shared.
Happiness is like a Popsicle, if you try to horde it or hide it, it melts in your pocket and is gone.
Yes, Happiness is an overflowing thing—it grows when it is shared and shrinks when concealed and hidden away.
Yet the question remains, “how do we find balance in life, so that we can be in relationship with other people in such a way that the joyful goodness of life may be shared?”
I would suggest –the place to look is at the Lawyer’s question in today’s Gospel: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The question that Jesus downgrades to simply, “Do this and you will live.”
The equilibrium between our happiness and that of others, is balanced upon not missing chances to be merciful.
Self-sacrifice and self-care are balanced upon opportunities to be merciful.
Let us pray.
There was a woman going from Jerusalem to Jericho, and she was robbed, stripped of all she had, beaten, and left half dead.
Then along came a Priest, just by the thick trudge of her footfalls you could tell she was heavy laden
—she was embittered,
she was burnt out.
--you might say in modern parlance, she had caretakers fatigue.
--or going the other direction, looking backward, you might say she was a Moses figure.
Now, on at least two separate occasions in Hebrew Scripture this story of Moses giving up, and then learning to delegate, is told… Perhaps it’s important…
Well, this Priest, she didn’t take that story to heart. There she was, the walking dead—like Moses saying, “Kill me now.”
So bedeviled by duty that when she looked at that dying woman, she thought, “Another obligation,” and kept right on moving.
Perhaps she’d bought her own hype—that she alone could bring home the bacon… well she’s a Jewish woman… so maybe she brought home the goods… maybe she believed that she alone could serve fully and serve well.
Perhaps she simply couldn’t say no and this moment was the one chance she had, with no one looking over her shoulder, so he passed by.
So she grit her teeth and kept on keeping on, doing the things she was obliged to do, but not stooping down to do what she ought to do.
She missed a chance to be merciful because she tried to do it all by herself.
Then along came a Levite. Her steps were disordered, her movement erratic. She was watching a Youtube Video on her Smartphone in one hand, while also combing her hair with the other, as she slashed from one side of the street to the other.
In fact, she was so distracted that she tripped over the dying woman.
It didn’t even phase her, she was overscheduled as it was—like Martha she was busy with many things—every moment scheduled… even her unscheduled moments were scheduled—no moment of serendipity allowed.
Like so many of her day she wore her busyness as a badge of honor.
But also, she kept busy, because when she didn’t, when the multi-media extravaganza of modern life, the hypnosis of hypersecheduling broken, when it all stopped blaring, when there were quiet moments, she just didn’t know what to do, how to be a person unscheduled and alone—free!
She missed her chance to be merciful because she was distracted.
There was a Samaritan too, who traveled on that long winding road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
She walked with a little skip in her step—she had a secret inside her she was willing to share.
She was loved—and she knew it.
She considered that famous phrase of Torah that Samaritans share with the Jews, “Love your neighbor… as yourself.”
She recognized that life is a little like an airplane ride—in case of emergency an oxygen mask may appear, in which case you need to secure your own mask before helping others.
So, she didn’t overschedule herself—she didn’t buy the prevailing culture’s assumption that busyness was next to godliness.
She gave herself time to be—little Sabbaths—so that she could be fully with other people in their times of need.
She also recognized she wasn’t the sole force of good in the world
—that many hands make light work
—that the alternative to delegating responsibility tends to be resentment.
She even said “no” sometimes—and didn’t feel bad about it either!
She knelt down and administered aid to the woman. She did what she could for her, but knew there were people better equipped than her to heal the woman’s every ill. She took her to an innkeeper who knew about ointments and healing, and together they showed her mercy.
She did not miss her opportunity to be merciful.
Upon that moment, self-sacrifice and self-care, sit together.