“I once heard a spiritual man say that he was not so much astonished at the things done by a soul in mortal sin as the things not done by it.” Teresa of Avila: First Mansions-Chapter Two
‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!) I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Luke 19.26
As part of her job as an office manager Michelle made collection calls and left messages. She said the most hostile return calls were predictable because the recipient’s answering machine usually had some sentimental message ending with “have a blessed day” or “Jesus loves you”. Michelle derided these Christians for swearing at her because they didn’t pay their bill.
Michelle told me she not only had problems with some Christians, but also with the Bible. “I can sum it up in two stories”, she said. The first was God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac: “How could God have a parent do such a thing?” The second was the parables of the pounds/talents (Luke 19.11-27, Matthew 25.14-30). She was disturbed by the reprimand and consequences for the one who simply hid his talent.
I’ve reflected on the parables of pounds/talents many times. I always end up in the same place: Our inaction is typically more costly than our errors. Try a short exercise: Write down three things you have done, about which, you have serious regrets. Then write down three things you haven’t done that you regret not doing. Which category has been the most costly?
It’s easy to get overly focused on our errors because they are visible and tied to our reputation or image. It’s even easier to be complacent about the things we haven’t done because these omissions tend to be less visible and easier to defend. Yet, Teresa says these omissions can be astonishing. Conversations about our omissions or neglect are challenging because it can feel like one more thing on the “spiritual to do list”. Below are two barriers we can remove to help us seize opportunities:
Addictive or Viral Sins: These are “gods”. They consume our time, emotional energy, and spiritual strength. These can be our own “addictive” sins or they can be “viral” (systemic) sins rooted in an institution. Addictive and viral sins cause pain, control our schedules, and sabotage opportunities.
Busyness: Management expert Peter Drucker writes about what he calls “pruning”. He tells the story of Harry Hopkins who was in the Roosevelt administration during WW II. Hopkins was sick and could only work a “few hours every other day or so” so he only focused on the most critical things. He did this so effectively Winston Churchill dubbed him ‘Lord Heart of the Matter’. Ultimately, Drucker says, Hopkins “accomplished more than anyone else in wartime Washington.” We can prune a lot of activity that will never be missed and gain considerable time for more important things.*
Exploring the Interior Castle requires pruning and course adjustments. I encourage us to eliminate the “gods” of consuming sin and busyness and pursue better opportunities and a better life.
*The Peter Drucker Story is from The Essential Drucker
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