The following comes from an email I received some time ago:
A group of graduates, well established in their careers, were talking at a reunion and decided to go visit their old university professor, now retired. During their visit, the conversation turned to complaints about stress in their work and lives. Offering his guests hot chocolate, the professor went into the kitchen and returned with a large pot of hot chocolate and an assortment of cups – porcelain, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the hot chocolate.
When they all had a cup of hot chocolate in hand, the professor said: ‘Notice that all the nice-looking, expensive cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. The cup that you’re drinking from adds nothing to the quality of the hot chocolate. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink.
What all of you really wanted was hot chocolate, not the cup; but you consciously went for the best cups. And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.
Now consider this: Life is the hot chocolate; your job, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. The cup you have does not define, nor change the quality of life you have. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the hot chocolate God has provided us.’
God makes the hot chocolate, people choose the cups.
The happiest people don’t have the best of everything;
they just make the best of everything that they have.
Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.
And enjoy your hot chocolate!!
I thought of this email when I read 2 of the Bible readings for this week. The first is from Exodus 16:2-15 and speaks of the Hebrew people who have just been liberated from slavery and oppression in Egypt. They are on a journey to the ‘Promised Land’ but have to wander through the wilderness to get there. It is hard and they struggle. It is testing and formative and it requires their faith and trust in God to grow. The people become overwhelmed, tired and stressed and they complain; they complain bitterly! Life is hard, now. It was difficult In Egypt, being slaves and all, but there was some degree of routine, structure and certainty. Now they are reliant on God’s provision and have lost a degree of control – they complained! In the Gospel reading (Matthew 20:1-16) there is another story that ends in complaining. Jesus told a parable where a vineyard owner went out early in the morning to hire labourers to work for the day. This was a common event. Available workers seeking work to feed their families, would wait in a public space and landowners would go and hire the ones they wanted. The landowner agreed with them regarding how much he would pay for the day’s work. After a couple of hours, he went back and hired more and then again two more times through the day. At the end of the day he called the workers together and gave each the same amount of money – those who worked a short time earned the same as those who worked all day. The latter were angry and complained that they ought to receive more. The landowner asked if they had received their agreed amount? They had. If he wanted to be gracious and generous to the others then that was his business!
This is a story about God’s Realm, which is gracious and just. Those employed late in the day were the weaker, older or less-abled workers. They would often not get work and when they did, might only earn small amounts. In God’s economy, all are able to have enough and all are able to receive what they need.
Never-the-less, there is complaining! There are echoes of this complaining all around us. ‘Aboriginal people get too much money; too many handouts…’ ‘Single mothers are only in it for the money.’ ‘She only has kids to claim the benefits.’ ‘They don’t deserve housing as they don’t treat anything with respect.’ ‘If you work hard you will get somewhere and have more than enough.’ ‘There’s no point giving money to developing nations because it is wasted and misused by greedy leaders…’ There may be an element of truth in some of these stories. Everyone has an example, a story (apocryphal or true?) where they can point to someone doing the ‘wrong thing’ and so we complain. Question: Who would change places with any of these groups or people? I’ve never met anyone who complained about these things who actually believes that the situations these people live in is so good they would change places! So, why the complaining? Why do we complain about programs etc that try to help other people? Are we like the workers in the vineyard who have good jobs and earn sufficient money but always look for more or want to stand above others? How do we respond to those around us who complain? Will we/they ever be satisfied?
What is it we actually want – the hot chocolate or the cup from which we drink it? Or both? Do we enjoy things more because we have the best? Do we find ourselves wanting to ‘keep others in their place’ so that we feel better about ourselves and our own status?
Are we able to let go of the cup and enjoy the hot chocolate whatever it comes in? Can we understand that it is the drinking together and sharing joy and life, that is ultimately important? Can we understand that in God’s economy, no-one should have too much and no-one too little. Those who have a greater ability to earn and accumulate have a responsibility to share with those who cannot earn or do not have enough. It sounds odd and, for some, unfair, until we get to the point of realising that having the best cup will not make us happy and content. It is having the hot chocolate that is the important thing and it always tastes better when others share it with us.
The Hebrew people in the Exodus story didn’t realise that all they had to do was to let go of their need to be in control and trust in God. Everyday food came. It lasted for the day then disappeared – they couldn’t accumulate it. If only they lifted their heads, were thankful for what they had and could trust in the God who led them, they might not have complained!
What about you and I? Can we trust God, be grateful and satisfied? Can we live life and enjoy it with gratitude and delight for the wonderful gift it is?