What a Wasp Taught Me About Life and Ministry

I don’t like wasps. I don’t like wasps, and I really don’t like getting stung by insects. So there I was on Sunday, telling a story (and using my hands a lot, because I do), when a wasp landed, right there, on my left hand. There were audible gasps from the first few rows of the congregation.

Now, when I was a kid, one day I was sitting in a Hebrew school class, and a bee landed on my hand, (also my left hand – what is it about my left hand?) and I got a little panicky, and closed my hand on the bee, and she stung me. And it hurt. Panic wasn’t a good response.

So back to Sunday. The wasp was on my hand. I didn’t want to get stung. I didn’t want to freak out the congregation. I did want to be able to tell my story (I was telling Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmens – it’s one of my favorites). Well, I’d panicked once before, and it didn’t work out well for me. So I was determined not to do that again. I figured that the wasp had a better chance of remaining calm if I remained calm.

So I stayed calm. And the wasp stayed calm. And everyone else seemed to stay calm, too. I tried to gently coax her to fly off my hand, but she was just not interested. She just kept walking all over my hand. Well, all right then. We were co-existing. If not entirely comfortably, at least for me, at least without doing harm to each other.

But then there was the robe. I robe every Sunday. And eventually she wanted to explore going up the sleeve of my robe. Well. There are limits. So I did have to gently, but firmly, close down the access to my sleeve. At that point, a parishioner came up with a piece of paper and was able to flick the wasp away quickly so that no one – not even the wasp – got hurt. And then he guided her out the back door. And I finished the story. I do love that story.

Upon reflecting on the whole incident (perhaps I might call this the Wasp Incident of 2015), I realized that I could take a lot of lessons from this situation into ministry, and into the rest of my life.

  1. Don’t panic. I realize that Douglas Adams said this first in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxybut it bears repeating. He was right. Staying as calm as possible was so much moe helpful. It allowed me to actually use my brain and think through possibilities.
  2. Startled beings don’t react well. This is related to the first lesson. When I startled the bee as a child, the bee stung me. I stayed calm, and the wasp stayed calm. Upon reflection, I can think of many times when my children took their cues from my behavior. If they fell down and skinned their knees but I remained calm, they generally remained calm. On the other hand, I’ve seen one person get startled and panic and set off a whole group of others.
  3. Set limits. It’s great to allow flexibility and to have some give-and-take, but there are limits. I wasn’t going to let the wasp go up my sleeve. In ministry, and in life, it’s important not to let others take over my life – to get under my skin. There are tools to use for this – redirection, closed access, and time-outs, for example. Cooperation is great, but it doesn’t mean turning into a doormat.

The wasp survived. Well, for as long as wasps survive, anyway. I survived unscathed. I didn’t love having a wasp walk all over my hand, but I’m grateful for the lessons.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.


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