One of the most helpful guests our church has hosted in the last few years (in my opinion) was Dr. Richard Swenson. Swenson is a physician who is best known for helping people become aware of our need for what he calls margin. In his excellent book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Swenson defines margin as "the space between our load and our limits," suggesting that many of us are carrying loads that are beyond our limits in the four areas in his title, and his prescription is that we function best when we leave margin between the loads we carry and the limits that we naturally face as humans beings. Our discussion this week about Jesus' statement, "When you give..." brought to mind a story that Dr. Swenson told during his visit with us. He said that a group of researchers did a study on seminary students. These seminarians were told that they were given the assignment of giving a talk in a nearby room, and some of them were given the task of explaining Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. The primary variable in the study was the sense of hurry that was created for the students. Some were told that they were already running late and had actually been expected a few minutes ago. Others were told their audience was ready for them and that they should go right over into the other room. A third group was told that it would be a few minutes before their audience would be ready, but they might as well head over to the other room.
On the students' way from one room to another on their campus to give their talks, they each individually encountered a person lying in a doorway, doubled over, with eyes closed and coughing. The researchers' hypothesis was that the primary factor in whether or not students would stop to help would not be personality differences or religious commitment or other such factors, but simply how much hurry the seminarians sensed. They were exactly right. Of the seminary students who had some margin, who had been told they had a few minutes to spare, 63% stopped to help. Of those who were not early, but on time, 45% stopped to help. Of those running late, only 10% stopped to give any help to the obviously struggling person in the door. The study noted that some of the students even stepped over the apparently injured person. And half of these students were on their way to give a talk on the Good Samaritan!
The lesson we must learn from this is, regardless of our level of Christian devotion, we are much less likely to give of ourselves to others–whether it be through giving our time, resources, or other ways–when we are in a hurry. Hurry is an interior condition brought on when we feel threatened, but even though Jesus' threats were so real throughout his life–particularly on his way to Jerusalem and the cross–we never get the sense that he was in a hurry. Rather, he knew that despite the cross that awaited him, he was ultimately safe in God's kingdom.
So am I, and so are you. And that is why we can live–and give–at a kingdom pace. In tomorrow's final reflection on "When you give..." we'll take a closer look at how the reality of God's kingdom affects our giving.
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]