Jan 16, 2023 1397 Sister Theresa Joseph Nguyen, O.P.

A Cup of Tea & a Lesson From the Master

God sends no one away empty-handed—except those who are full of themselves

I once heard a Taekwondo master tactfully correct a young teenage boy who was looking to be his martial arts student: “If you would like to learn martial arts from me,” he said, “you need to pour out the tea in your cup first, and then bring back the empty cup.” To me the master’s meaning was clear and concise: He didn’t want a prideful student. A cup full of tea has no space for more; no matter how good what you try to add is, it will overflow the cup. Likewise, no student can learn from even the best of masters if he is already full of himself. As my eyes followed the young man walking away in indignation, I told myself that I would never fall into that prideful trap. Yet a few years later, I found myself bringing a cup brimming with bitter tea to God—my Master.

Full to the Brim

I was assigned to teach religion to PreK to second grade students at a small Catholic school in Texas. I received that assignment from my religious superior with bitterness and discouragement. For me, the reason was quite understandable: I had completed my Master of Theology degree, because I wanted to become a college professor in Sacred Scripture, and later, a sought-after public speaker. This assignment clearly did not meet my expectations and required so much less of me than what I thought I could give. In tears I fell prostrate onto the convent’s chapel floor and lay there for a long time. How can I bring myself to teach a bunch of little children? How can I benefit from working among kids? Indeed, my teacup was full to the brim. But even in my pride, I could not bear to walk away from my Master. The only way out was to beg Him for help.

The Master saw me through and through and was ready to help me drain my teacup so he could fill it with more tasteful tea. Ironically, he chose to use the very children put in my charge to teach me humility and empty my cup of pride. To my surprise, I began to realize that the children were budding, little theologians. Regularly, their questions and remarks gave me greater understanding and insights into the nature of God.

A question from four-year-old Andrew brought a surprising result: “How can God be inside of me?” he asked. While I was organizing my thoughts and preparing a sophisticated theological answer, little Lucy replied without a moment’s hesitation, “God is like air. He is everywhere.” Then she took a deep breath to show how like air God could be inside her.

Trained by True Master

God not only used the children to help me empty my cup, but also to teach me ‘martial arts’ for my spiritual battles. While watching a short video about the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, little Matthew broke down in tears. When I asked, he humbly admitted, “I bragged the other day that I had shared my ice cream with my friend.” His words reminded me to remain on guard against the sin of pride. By the end of the year, I had learned that as I emptied my teacup, God was filling it with Himself instead. Even the children told me so. One day, Austin sneakily asked, “Sister, what is the Bible?” Not waiting for an answer, he pointed at me: “You are the Bible,” he said. I was a bit shocked and confused but little Nicole supplied the explanation, “Because you are all about God,” she said. It was through the children that God poured new tea into my cup.

Many of us go to God asking Him to teach us how to fight our spiritual battles without realizing our cup is too full of pride to have room for His teaching. I have learned that it is easier to bring an empty cup and ask our master to fill it with His own life and wisdom. Let’s allow the true master to train us and give us exercises for our life journey and for the battles we will inevitably fight. He may surprise us and use little children, or others we think little of, to teach us, but let us remember that “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).






Sister Theresa Joseph Nguyen, O.P.

Sister Theresa Joseph Nguyen, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Mary Immaculate Province in Houston, Texas. She is currently studying Theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies. She has a talent for art, a love for Sacred Scripture and a desire to share God’s Word.

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