Struggling with an empty lamp

Linda Gehman Peachey is a freelance writer living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She has a Master of Divinity degree from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and is currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Previously, Linda worked for Mennonite Central Committee on women’s concerns and also served with her husband, Titus, as co-director of Peace and Justice Ministries. She and Titus have two adult daughters and enjoy visiting them in Chicago and Guatemala. She is a member of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church and serves on the steering committee for the Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Church USA.

It’s advent again, a time of waiting and longing. Often there is also eager expectation and the sense that we won’t have to wait long before our desires are fulfilled in the most joyous, happy way. But this year especially, I have felt empty and lost, unsure how to pray, what to hope for or how to respond to the world around me.

I feel like I have run out of oil, much like the five foolish women in the parable about the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13). They were waiting for a great celebration, but they weren’t prepared for it to take so long. They didn’t bring the necessary resources they would need for the long haul.

I am afraid I am just like them.

As a white woman with economic and educational privilege, I have assumed I have enough oil to make it through the waiting period. My white privilege and economic resources have given me a false sense of security and confidence, and shielded me from the harsh realities of our world.

I haven’t had to invest myself in the struggles of others, or seek the spiritual grounding that is necessary to sustain faithfulness over the generations.

But now the veil has been pulled back. The drumbeats of violence and greed grow ever louder, and closer and closer. Every day we hear more bad news, more ways in which those who are most at risk in our communities become ever more vulnerable. Things I had taken for granted – like honest elections, safe air, water and food, and the ability to pay for health care — all are in jeopardy now. The situation feels out of control, and the winds of destruction seem to be coming from every direction.

I desperately need more oil, a well of resources that can help sustain me during this long and exhausting time. This is what I so admire in others, such as those in the Southern Freedom movement. They knew all along that the struggle for justice is long and arduous. Over the generations, they developed reserves of courage, strength and wisdom that enabled them to stay the course even through the middle of the night. They had learned the wisdom of bringing extra oil.

But now this is something I have to learn. I cannot beg oil from others, or depend on them to do the work for me. I need to be ready to do the work too, to find for myself the spiritual and communal practices that can help sustain me during the long struggle ahead.

I also have to be ready to act. This is not only about endurance. When the time is right, I need to be ready to participate in the life-giving work that God is doing in the world. Luke states this quite clearly: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Luke 12:35).  And so we wait, we prepare, we continue to do the work God calls us to do. But there will be a time to stand up and be counted, a time to help light the way.

So I continue to pray, read, ponder and learn. I continue to partner with others and be a faithful ally where I can. I try to celebrate the small victories and honor those who courageously lead the way. Yet the night seems so long and I wonder what other practices I still need to learn. Will I be awake? Will I have enough oil? Am I ready to take part in God’s liberating justice?