Wasteful Living

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?”-Mark 14:3-4

We were just sitting in the square waiting for the children and teens. It was too hot for us to walk around looking for them. There was no one around yet but we know that they always come to this particular square. We just decided to just wait. Today we did not bring much stuff with us. We just had some coloring books and we wanted to do a quiet activity. We figured that if we started coloring without them, maybe they might just come and join us without any prompting from us. Sure enough, our quiet activity attracted someone. It was a lanky teenager named Filipe who seemingly appeared out of nowhere. He has lived in the streets for a long time. He just turned 18 but he still acts and behaves like a child. I don’t mean that he is immature. He has been to maintain his innocence throughout this time. It is quite a miracle. Filipe always has a smile for us. He treats us with the uttermost respect but at the same time, he is one of the most closed teenagers. He hardly shares anything about his past and rarely participates in any activity with us. We were really surprised when he asked if he could color as well. We had a coloring book that was for older teens and adults and it was supposed to be a therapeutic coloring book. All I can say about it was that it was very relaxing for me to just sit there and color. Filipe sat down next to us and started coloring in silence. Then Dreyson appeared. He is another tough teenager. He always high on something and it is hard to engage him in any conversation. He watched us quietly for a while sniffing paint thinner in a plastic bottle. He decided to put away the paint thinner and asked if he could color as well. A few others came and did the same. We sat there in the square coloring different figures and pictures. It must have been strange for those who walked by us. Some must wonder why we are wasting our time coloring when we should be doing something more productive. Well, it was a good afternoon of holy waste. It was productive as well. We were very grateful for it.

A lot of things we do can be considered a waste of time. There are people who might consider missionary work as a waste of time and money. If these people saw us sitting around and coloring, they might even argue that we are proving their point. I won’t try to argue my way out of this one. Instead I will say that they are right. “Yes”, it is a waste of time and money. There are many things we do in life which are a waste of time and money. A church building is a waste of time and money. Why do we need to have a building to meet? For that matter, why do we even need to meet together for worship? In this age of internet and technology, wee can just transmit all that we need to hear and see through the computer or mass media. There is no need for buildings, no need for priests or ministers. In fact, is there really a need for religion? Many secular groups can do charitable works. We don’t need the church to do these, things. We have counselors who are better trained to help people than priests and ministers. If we were really pragmatic, we don’t need many of things we spend time and money on in this world. Even prayers can be considered a waste of time. Jesus Himself said that God knows what we need before we pray, so why bother praying? There are also other things we do on a daily basis that can be considered a waste of time and money, like reading, drinking coffee, and watching TV. There are a lot of things in life that do not appear to be necessary. If we did away with all these things Life would be colorless and empty. Perhaps, what appears to be a waste might be necessary to help us appreciate that which is precious and wonderful in Life.

Perhaps I could be doing something else with my life at this age than sitting on the filthy floor of a square and coloring with kids. This might appear to be a waste of talent. However, for us, it is one of the most enriching moments of our life. Filipe got done before the rest and he sat there with the rest of the children and took out a bible from his bag. He started reading from the Psalms. I never knew that he had a bible and he liked reading from it. When I asked him if he had a favorite Psalm, he smiled and said that he liked whatever he read. Another older teenager, Caio started sharing that he loves to listen to the street preachers just to hear something significant and then he shares it with the others. Filipe then took out a book about a drug addict who managed to kick his addiction through the strength of his faith. He gave the book to Mary and asked if she would read it and then talk about it with them. Dreyson also started opening up. He shared about his family. He told us that he has eight brothers and sisters. His younger brother, Daniel, also in the streets, has a twin sister living at home. He talked about his life at home and this was the first time he shared anything personal with us. He just did it without any prompting from us. I could go on and on but I won’t. All my years of seminary training has never really taught the lesson I think I am learning in the streets that intentionally ‘wasting time’ to be with people can be very productive. We felt such a strong bond being fostered between us and the children. They figured that if we were willing to waste our time by sitting around with them that they must be special to us. There is no other way to show how special someone is to us unless we are willing to put away so called important things and just waste time with them. What others perceive as waste is worth its price in gold in the language of Love.

The message of the gospel is a message of Holy Waste. God wasted His Son’s life for the very people who murdered Him. It was this willingness to throw His life away for a brood of ungrateful people that made the centurion say,“This man truly was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39) If we never willing to waste our time and energy on people, we will never discover the meaning of the gospel. The Truth revealed in the words of Jesus are found in holy wasting. It is discovered when we give ourselves to doing things or maybe not doing anything for the sake of being with someone whom we love.

A Christian once asked me why he should be helping a missionary work in foreign land when it would not bring any benefit to his local community? I think such a question is revealing. It shows that perhaps we have not understood the depth of the gospel. This person is not ready for missionary work in any shape or form. He needed to understand the gospel first. Not just intellectually, but he has to allow the Truth of the gospel to penetrate into his being. Then he would understand that he wouldn’t be able to experience the depth of God’s love if someone hadn’t wasted their time and energy to bring the Truth of the gospel to him. I am here in Brazil because someone wasted their time to share the power of the gospel to me. The gospel compels us to waste our time for something greater and more powerful than what our physical eyes can perceive. It compels us to see a different set of values present in which there is no such thing as wasteful time when it helps to bring out the true value of one’s personhood.

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5 thoughts on “Wasteful Living

  1. What a wonderful lesson. Thank you so much for sharing all the things that you do. I feel like I am still in bible study and learning all the time. Thank you for being such a blessing in the lives of the children you work with and in my own life. Although you are far away you are still having an impact on some of us here in the US and maybe on someone in that Christian’s community that questioned helping you. God works in mysterious ways.

  2. You said this really well. It reminds me of our times in São Paulo when people wanted to do something and we’re frustrated because I didn’t give them something to do. I should have said, “Go waste some time with people who need love.”

  3. Good to read your blog posts Stephen. I especially appreciate your emphasis on the holiness of wasting time. I know I often reflect upon my own ministry in terms of wasting time. And as you say, it’s often when it appears we are most wasting our time that we are doing our best ministry. By this I don’t mean simply procrastinating tasks we need to do, but creating space of the Spirit to move and reveal Christ’s truth to us. That doesn’t happen as often if we are always too busy looking after the “important” things. Spending time with people, including the least in our midst, requires time to build relationships and trust. But that kind of ministry is not something we can quantify, even though we all need to file our various reports that require us to quantify our progress and justify our ministry. That is a corporate model that has seeped into all areas of our life, including education and church. Learning and ministry are ends in themselves, not some by-product of efficiency and productivity. Thank you for helping frame this in my mind as I prepare to celebrate Reformation Sunday tomorrow. Perhaps as a church we can focus on reforming the church in the shape of the gospel, free, unfettered by worldly metrics. Maybe then all of us who spend so much time trying to be more efficient and better at our jobs, not to mention living, might see some new truth. Even if it’s only a glimpse of Jesus’ work in our lives, that spark might be enough to make us pause and question what really counts as “wasteful living.”

    • I have been thinking about your comment for some time. I realized that in our Christian ministry that words like contemplation and waiting have disappeared from our spiritual vocabulary. Often when we hear about successful churches, it is always about activities and numbers. Holy Waste is about waiting and seeing what God is doing in our midst. It is not an easy concept to put into practice in this world.

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