Lately, I have been feeling a lot like the widow in the first Book of Kings. A version of Elijah approaches me in real life and asks for something—food, money, time—and, like the widow, I want to say, “Literally, I have nothing to give at this moment. I’m scraping the bottom here.” Maybe it is during this time as things return to “normal” that we all find ourselves a bit overwhelmed by all that needs to get “done,” so we spend our valuable time working away at the tasks that keep piling up. Our jars of oil empty quickly, so we allow it to spread thinly on the pan. However, we know the cake will bake better when there is more oil to spare.
My statement that I’m scraping the bottom is certainly a gross exaggeration, as it takes only a few minutes of prayer and reflection for me to realize that I have been blessed with enough—enough to make a cake or three. I just need people like Elijah in my life to help me remember that even when it seems like I have nothing to give, it only requires some attention to see how I am letting the oil leak out or the flour scatter. More can be retained when this attention is given to what I have, and I can only notice the opportunity to receive more when I recognize my own needs.
As we work for social justice, there is a lot to be given, but we cannot forget that we need nourishment as well. Our work needs to be sustained by greater care for the whole person, including ourselves, by recognizing our weaknesses as well as our strengths. It just takes some vulnerability and courage, like both the widows in Sunday’s readings, to be willing to share our limitations without fear. It is not a matter of putting on a show or calling attention to ourselves, it is instead the strength to authentically give from who we are.
Josh Utter is originally from Madison, WI, and a graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, IA. Based in Phoenix, AZ, Josh is the outreach officer for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.