Your Cup

A couple of weeks ago one of my friends invited me to their church to hear them sing and give a talk. Although I'm not a member of a church, when I'm invited I'll usually go. I've found that regardless of the denomination, there's a message--and if I listen, I'll often find that message is for me.

The service wasn't until 11 and so I was blissfully enjoying the morning when I noticed that I'd missed a call from a friend. 7am on a Sunday is early and so I worried that something was wrong--I called her back without listening to the message. She's sad. She's angry, but mostly, she's lonely so I listened. I tried to give her positive affirmation, I tried to be calming and finally, tried to give her another way to look at things. At the end, I told her that I loved her. By the end of the call, I was spent.

Walt asked who I'd been talking to--I told him and then replied that I don't think I helped her at all. And that I was drained. He told me about a parable he'd heard on NPR from Thich Nhat Hanh which went something like this:

You're holding a cup of coffee when a coworker bumps into you causing you to spill coffee everywhere. Why did you spill coffee? Because that was what was in your cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you'd have spilled tea. The moral of the story is that most of us do a pretty good job keeping our mental and emotional cups from spilling until we're rattled. When that happens, whatever is inside you spills onto whatever is around you.

Hanh suggests that we fill our cups with joy, gratefulness, peace, and humility. I'd offer that when your cup is empty, it's very hard to fill it on your own and so only too often, it's filled by whatever (or whomever) caused you to spill it in the first place. If they're full of joy, all the better. That's not often the case.

I thought about that as I sat in the front pew with my friends' children. It was a prelude to the Christmas celebration and so even though the service was foreign, the songs were familiar.The parents sang, their voices so calming that I didn't hear the words. Two church members gave a talk and then a young man approached the microphone nervously.

He'd grown up on a Navaho reservation and remarked that he knew nothing of the Christmas we all celebrate filled with toys and lights. For him, Christmas was the house filled with the smell of his grandmother cooking large pots of stew, and then loading up the old truck with him and his grandfather and driving to visit the poorer in the community to fill their pots.

And with that, I felt my cup fill to the brim.

On the drive home, I thought about Hanh and how hard it is to fill your heart with joy when anger and fear are so loud. Maybe joy comes in the quiet things. A song with no words. Sweet memories from a stranger. A friend who listens. I hope my friend remembers the last thing I said to her, and that her cup is full.

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