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You Can't Pour From an Empty Cup


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By Tasha Stephens, Conference Lay Education Coordinator

The saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” traces its roots back to a learning moment between ancient Chinese scholar Tokusan and Zen Master Ryutan. While the conversation was the opposite (Master Ryutan overfilled Tokusan’s teacup, explaining that Tokusan thought he knew it all and there was no room for him to learn), either way, it is true. We can’t help others when we are exhausted and empty. And we should always have the capacity to learn something new.

If we have learned anything over the past two-and-a-half years, it is that many of us are worn out and weary. Pastors (and their families) are no different. Seemingly overnight, pastors had to re-learn the logistics of ministry. They had to preach to people not physically in front of them. They were called on for virtual hospital calls and funerals and had to figure out how to keep the life of the church moving forward while doors were locked and lights were off. Relationships that maybe had a crack before the pandemic now had a chasm of hurt and brokenness, with pastors being called on for guidance and a caring ear – without being in person with their congregants. God created us to be in connection with one another. That’s why Eve was created to be a helper to Adam, so he wasn’t alone. Our pastors give all they have and have had to give more since 2020. It would be expected that many would have an empty cup! 

Pastors are called to preach and lead Christ’s people. Each comes with a special set of gifts and talents. Some are great leaders. Some are great organizers. Some are great connectors. Some are great theologians. Some are great builders. But very few are good at being intentional about taking a Sabbath, let alone a planned vacation or any kind of retreat or break. It is up to us, the laity, to help encourage our pastors to take time for themselves to re-group, recharge, rest and refill their cups. It is our job to support, encourage and love our pastors. We should check in on them and ask them how it is with their soul – and mean it. Hopefully, they will be honest. It isn’t easy for a helper to say things are rough, so that it might take some work and time. But just knowing that you care enough to check in will make a big pour into the cup.

As a laity, not only do we want to let our clergy know they are appreciated, but we are told to do this. First, Thessalonians 5:11-13 (MSG) tells us, “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it. And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you and have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” 

And while October is officially Pastor Appreciation Month, I think we should pray for our pastors, their families, and churches daily. Pray that Christ will make us into who he needs us to be. Show appreciation often, and let our clergy know they are loved.

Working together, recognizing where we have been and what we have learned in this time, we should continue to build the kingdom on earth, understanding that we all need time to refill our cups now and then.