What We Can Learn From Spiders

Our work often involves building things. We put in place structures and programs that we hope will last into the future. We want to have impact not just now but going forward. But sometimes we have to move from one position to another, leaving it in the hands of another whether the structure or program we built will continue to thrive or whether it will collapse through inattention or mismanagement or worse. That can be a very frustrating thing to watch and we don’t always react with aplomb when it occurs.

I was sitting out at the Emmaus House on the grounds of St. Ignatius Retreat House, one of my favorite places on the grounds to pray and I spied a spider making a web. Now the fact that the spider attempted this particular web was amazing in and of itself. The beginning strands of the web stretched from one tree to another that was quite a distance (measured in spider distance) and it seemed to me it would take an enormous amount of time for the spider to finish spinning that web. Yet the spider just took each step, one at a time. As I watched it, I realized there was very little chance the web would last. Rain, too strong a wind, someone walking past it and catching a piece of it, a bird flying past – any number of things could rip apart everything the spider had so carefully put together.

And then I realized that when it did, the spider would not sit around feeling sorry for itself. It wouldn’t lock itself in its room and refuse to come out. It wouldn’t get discouraged. It wouldn’t sit and eat a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. It wouldn’t do any of the things we might be tempted to do in that situation. Instead, it would simply start to create a new web. That’s what spiders do, that is what it they are meant to do.

And all we can do is to do our best with the work we are given by God to do. We build structures and programs and sometimes they last. Other times they don’t. When they don’t, we are left to begin again, to do our best again with the work we are given. That’s what we do. That is what we are meant to do. And I suspect that’s good enough for God, who can take care of the rest.

In words often attributed to Mother Teresa (but originally written by Kent Keith), “What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.”