March 1, 2013

Long Spoons Living

I once received an e-mail forward telling the story of a fictional tourist who wandered through heaven and hell. I typically don't much care for forwarded e-mails, often finding them shallow and sappy. This one might be both, but for some reason it stuck with me and came around to mean something deeper.

So the story goes, our tourist arrives in hell and is surprised to see a large table around which is seated a group of people. A  large pot in the middle of the table contains plenty of food for all of them. But the only utensils the people have are spoons, as long as yardsticks, strapped to their arms. As the diners try to bring food back to their mouths, it slips off their long, clumsy utensils, leaving the people starving and emaciated.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and salsachica
To the tourist's further surprise, heaven contains almost the same scenario: table, pot of stew, long spoons. But the people there are well-fed and happy, laughing and talking as they share the meal. Why? Because they are using their long spoons to feed each other, reaching across the table to supply one another's needs, and in turn having other people meet theirs.

Giving is a two-way street. Growing up in a community-oriented family environment, I guess I never really questioned having my needs met by them or my responsibility to contribute to the family. The needs at stake weren't only food, shelter, and clothing, but also love, community, and affirmation. When I went to college, I took this mentality with me: your roommates, friends, classmates, even professors, are human beings who deserve your respect and need your care. It works excellently when people in community with each other share this perspective.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and alexkalina
However, not all people do. In college especially, I met some people who were intent on using their spoons to feed only themselves, no matter how clumsy and inefficient the effort. Many were single, reasonably affluent, living on their own for the first time, and absorbed in their own education experiences. Their resources of time, money, energy, were completely consumed by activities they found fun, their own personal goals, or relationships that got them ahead. There was nothing left over to give to others. I, too, tried feeding only myself with my spoon for a while, and it left me feeling tough, yes, self-sufficient, yes, but still gnawingly hungry.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and mzacha

But constantly feeding other people with your spoon while they continue to feed only themselves is a recipe for straight-up starvation. Long-term, one-sided sacrifice and service lead to burnout and loneliness. Giving to your community is a good thing. In fact, in the short term, sometimes the best and most needed giving is to people who can't give back. But if you're constantly feeding others and no one reaches out to feed you back, you'll end up malnourished, not to mention exhausted and probably disillusioned.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and LoganCale
Successful, mutual relationships are about people using their long spoons to feed each other--parents and children, husbands and wives, church communities, friends. When you look at your resources and, instead of using them all up on yourself, sacrifice some for someone else, you risk not having enough. But the most satisfying feeling in the world is when the math doesn't add up. You give away something you want or need (affection, time, money, energy, etc.). But instead of being left hungry, someone else comes in and provides for your deficit, making up the difference.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and juliaf
It's called love, I think. It's looking at this enormous, awkward spoon you've been given to eat with and, instead of seeing it as an ill-formed impediment because the goal is feeding yourself, seeing it as the perfect tool because the point is to feed someone else.


8 comments:

  1. Such a visual reminder of God's wisdom: Nourishing others is among the best of medicines for much of what ails our world: greed, sadness, loneliness, anger, you name it....

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    1. ...and replacing them with smily cheerios :)

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  2. Such a wise and poignant post, Alina. And a good reminder to not only support others, but also ourselves so we can continue to support those around us.

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    1. Well said, Tami :) Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Love this, Alina -- and I think it's what the whole WANA community is about too. Which is why I'm going to share this post. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Ellen! The sharing and affirmation is much appreciated. I love the way you applied this to WANA :)

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  4. Hey guys, I don't normally comment on my own posts, but someone sent me a link to the poem "The Cold Within" by James Patrick Kinney after reading this post. It was just so good that I had to share it with you:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cold_Within

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  5. Great reminder. Thanks for sharing!

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