Burned Out: the Parable of the Bridesmaids


Deborah Beach Giordano
© November 13, 2017

Matthew 25:1–13 ~ retold by Deborah

Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like this: 

Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 

The foolish didn’t bring any oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil along with their lamps. 

The bridegroom was delayed for several hours, and as it got later, the bridesmaids fell asleep. 

But at midnight someone shouted, ‘Look! Here he is! Come out and greet him!’ 

Then all of the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. 

The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’ 

But the wise replied, ‘No! there won’t be enough for you and for us; you’d better go to the shops and buy some for yourselves.’ 

And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the party began. 

Finally, much later, the other bridesmaids arrived; but the door to the reception was shut. They knocked and yelled, ‘Hey! Open up! We’re here!’ 

But the bridegroom said, ‘Who the heck are you? My friends are here with me.’

So be on the alert, because you never know when you’ll need to be ready. 

Is that Right?

The behavior of the five “wise” bridesmaids has always made me a bit uncomfortable. Is that really the right way to act? Shouldn’t they have given the other bridesmaids some of the oil that they had brought with them?

You know: sharing.

From early days we are trained to help those in need, to share what we have, to give and not hold back. To be a Christian is to engage in compassion-fueled generosity: abundant giving with no thought of self.

But this parable turns that belief upside down. In it Jesus describes as “wise” the bridesmaids who did think of themselves. We’re meant to admire the ones who held something back.

What can that mean?

Give until…. 

For many years a major charity has used the slogan: “Give until it helps.” Each time it is broadcast, the older, entrenched admonition echoes in our ears: Give until it hurts.

The phrase distresses and at the same time goads us; pinching our consciences: we must give more, do more, work more, pray more…. until it hurts. There it is: the classic Christian notion of sacrifice: if our Lord loved and gave so much — then shouldn’t we do the same?

How much is enough?

Must we, too, bleed and die? How severe must our pain be, how weary our bodies, how worn down our spirits before we can rest from our labors? There’s always more that can be done, more that should be done, more that we might accomplish. It still isn’t “on earth as it is in heaven”: so our work is not finished.

But we also need to consider the bridesmaids in the Lord’s parable; the wise ones who held onto enough oil for themselves to see their way through to the wedding feast. Christians are supposed to be joyful Light-bearers, not grim-faced taskmasters — not even if we assign the tasks to ourselves!

Sour-faced Saints

From silly devotions
and from sour-faced saints,
good Lord, deliver us.
~ St. Teresa of Avila

The idea that we must give until we are hurting, subjecting ourselves to extreme or unceasing fatigue or suffering, can lead to terrible trouble. It puts our health at risk, erodes our spirit, creates conflicts in relationships, and turns our faith into a business transaction.

When we become “suffering saints,” our acts of lovingkindness turn into ordeals; we persist with growing resentment — angry that our sacrifices are unacknowledged and under appreciated; our thinly veiled hostility and hubris sabotaging the spirit of charity. We become prideful of our labor, delighting in our misery, convinced of our own holiness, unwilling to accept assistance or advice; martyrs to our own egos. There is no joy in us, no gratitude, no warmth in our hearts. We confuse suffering with sanctity, and mistake pain for piety.

We have given all that we have. The Light has gone out from us.

In the Dark

As the bridesmaids in the parable demonstrate, if we don’t reserve something for ourselves, the time will come when we find ourselves in the dark; hopeless, lost. If we don’t tend to the holy Flame within us, we will burn out.

It happens. It can happen to the best of us; a slow, steady decline in energy, enthusiasm, and hope; a gradual dimming of our faith — eclipsed by exhaustion, disappointment, or sorrow.

It happens when we fail to keep holy oil in our own lamps: when we act without prayer, without reflection, without humility, without love. It happens when we forget to be gentle and compassionate — to ourselves as well as to others. It happens when we forget who we are and Whose we are.

We are indeed called to the work of building the Kingdom of Heaven — but it isn’t up to us to complete the task, and certainly not to do the work single-handed! When we walk humbly with Christ we can do great things, but in stubbornly pursuing our own way we can do great harm — to ourselves as well as others.

Keeping the Light Burning

Even the noblest and most worthwhile projects — particularly those — can drain us: they can consume our attention and energy, becoming the sole focus of our concern. We give our all to the “Good Work,” and leave no time for God. Then one morning we wake up and realize that we’ve been running on empty.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest. ~ Matthew 11:28

We don’t have to do it all, we don’t have to do it all today, and we don’t have to do it alone. Jesus Christ is our savior; we are his disciples, not his replacements. Stop. Take a breath. Allow yourself to stand in the presence of the Beloved. Allow yourself to be loved.

It is all right. You are all right. You are loved and cherished beyond anything you can dream of or imagine — just as you are. You don’t have to earn God’s love, you are awash in it: like a fish in the ocean, that love surrounds you, flows through you; it is within you and you are within it, inseparably, inescapably.

All is well, and all is well, and all will be well.

Faith in the Darkness

But there are times when we cannot find that place of Divine Acceptance: when we are in stillness we find, not peace and comfort, but angst and fear and doubt. And so we keep doing and working and busy-ing harder than ever — to keep the terrors at bay. It is the vicious cycle of burn out: the emptier we are, the more we do in search of meaning, which makes us feel emptier and more frantic, which drives us to do more, and on and on..…

That’s when faith must take the lead. It calls us to Stop, in the midst of the hurry and busyness. Stop and breathe and trust in the Light. Know in your heart that God is love and in that love there is no darkness at all. Have faith that it is all right, that you are all right. Breathe and be at peace.

Perhaps that was the situation with the five foolish bridesmaids: perhaps they weren’t really locked out, perhaps they were so burned out that it seemed as if the door was closed to them. Perhaps they assumed that Christ was sending them away when he was actually calling out, “Come to me, all you who are weary and weighed down, and I will give you peace.” I know which version I believe.

Trust in the Lord!

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Be mindful of what nurtures and nourishes your soul, and partake of it often. Keep the light of Love aflame in your soul.

About inklingscommunity

I am a struggling Christian, committed pacifist, near-obsessive recycler, incurable animal lover, inveterate tree-hugger; a nature mystic, a socialized introvert, an advocate for the vulnerable, an opponent of exploiters.
This entry was posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.