I live a quiet life these days. I work, love my husband, make time for family and friends, pay attention to myself so I can learn who I am, serve when the right opportunities arise.
I used to think this wasn’t enough. I craved titles and importance; I craved that one thing in life I was meant to throw all of myself into and sacrifice everything for. The thing people would look at and admire and speak in hushed reverence of my bravery and devotion to God and those less fortunate. I dreamed of speaking on vast stages to a sea of people.
At church, I would hear over and over again that we needed to find a place to plug in and serve, and the status of full-time employment within a church, as an overseas missionary, or heading up a Christian non-profit were elevated and encouraged.
I listened, I made myself busy. So busy. In addition to working full time, managing everyday life (dishes and laundry anyone?), and attempting to have a social life, I felt the pressure to attend or lead several Bible studies, lead a local non-profit group, and be involved in multiple other service opportunities that came my way.
I was tired. So tired. But people were applauding me for my selfless life and my noble causes done for the sake of Jesus, so I pushed forward, fueled by their praise. Honestly? I had never felt so far away from Jesus. The fruit of the Holy Spirit – the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control? My spiritual tree was barren from such fruit. Instead, I was anxious, hungry for human approval, and secretly mean. Competitive. Judgmental. So very judgmental, of myself and others. I was like a Pharisee in the Bible, a whitewashed tomb with dead bones on the inside.
Eventually, my nerves stretched to the breaking point and I had to slow down or burn out. I was starting to neglect my job (because that wasn’t the important thing, ministry was), and my friendships, and quite frankly I simply couldn’t handle the pressure of trying to appear perfect anymore. That difficult time was the beginning of actually getting to know God instead of just knowing information about Him. It was the beginning of learning what being a humble servant meant instead of being a performance based people pleaser without faith.
Over the past several years, I’ve chewed on several revelations that have changed the way I live my life:
Relationships are the most important
At the core of His fatherly heart, God is about relationship. His two greatest commandments are that we love Him with everything we have and then that we love those around us as we love ourselves. He begins His own being with the mysterious intertwining of the holy trinity and moves on to structure His people into families. The family is the core of everything and all of humanity is wired to crave the connection, safety, and intimacy of family.
Every injustice and cruelty in the world stems from this – the breakdown of family. The breakdown of relationship. In all of my time studying about and being with vulnerable populations and all of the struggles that arise from their tender situations – human trafficking, physical abuse, drug addiction – it all starts with the breakdown of family.
In light of this, I would say that after our relationship with the Lord our families should be our greatest priority. If you are married, if you are a parent – your first priority as any kind of minister is to your spouse and your children. If you are single (which I was for 31 years), you take care of the ones the Lord leads to you as family. This might be your biological family, a close group of friends, your co-workers, etc.
Every Christian is a Missionary
We think of missionaries as those stationed in another country, or possibly placed domestically in an underserved area. However, as someone who claims citizenship in Heaven, earth is a foreign country and we serve here on mission for God no matter where we are. Housewife, mom, doctor, teacher, lawyer, engineer, janitor, burger flipper, business owner, restaurant server….no matter what the occupation, wherever we are planted, THAT is our mission field. In fact, I would say that the mission of any missionary is often simply to cultivate meaningful relationships.
This means we are missionaries to other families, the single mom with her kid at soccer, our clients, our students, our patients, our bosses, our coworkers; you get the idea. Wherever you are placed, even if it’s hard to see, God is using you there. You may not be there forever but in the time you are there rest assured that you are planting seeds, learning skills or developing character that will be paramount to your next assignment. Which brings me to the next revelation:
Your Identity and Your Assignment/Work Are Not the Same
It’s easy to equate what we do to who we are. After I took a break from leading everything and then when I stopped working full time, I had an identity crisis. I felt unimportant, lost, embarrassed, almost ashamed that I could no longer call myself by an “important” title. My value could no longer be denoted by the meetings I led, the size of my paycheck or a description of my job.
After frustration, depression, and lots of prayer and encouragement from my husband, I started to understand more of who I am apart from a career or title. A wife, daughter, sister, friend. According to the Bible I am a saint – redeemed, valuable, liberated, loved, set apart, whole, part of the family of God, bold…and the list goes on. These are things that remain even when other “identifying factors” are removed.
In order to thrive in many circumstances, we have to know our identity and be able to preserve and separate it from the work we do.
We Can’t Miss Our Calling
FOMO (fear of missing out) is rampant in our culture and it extends into American Christian culture as well. A huge fear of mine was always that if I wasn’t involved in a lot of things or if I wasn’t doing this right or that enough that I would miss out on the calling God has for my life.
I don’t think God works that way. I think if we love people, do the best we can with where we are and what we have; if we pay attention to what the Lord is saying and what is stirring in our hearts, we will not be able to miss the purpose of our lives. Even if we pass up one assignment or another, there will be another chance.
When I allowed myself to be driven by FOMO, I would take on tasks I wasn’t ready for and disservice others with a subpar result, or I would manipulate people to get my way in order to force what I wanted to happen. I’m not proud of those moments, but the Lord has shown me vast amounts of grace, mercy, and patience to allow me to grow and try again – over and over and over.
Bottom line is – our calling in life is simply to live our lives in love with the Lord and His people. The assignments related to that purpose come over time and we have (many) more than one chance to succeed.
I share all this to say that by being alive and present in your everyday surroundings, you are creating a greater impact than you know. The life you live now is important and it has purpose. When we are obedient in the small, quiet things – we are entrusted with the bigger things.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe it because we keep hearing of the spectacularly grand things other people are doing, or it feels like a message at church tells us we are not doing enough (despite the fact that we are exhausted) and this makes it feel like we are not enough.
Wherever we are in the journey, let’s do something radical – let’s believe we are doing enough…let’s believe we are enough. Let’s believe that Christ is enough and more than enough in us. Let’s encourage and equip each other both inside and outside church walls to grow and flourish exactly where we are planted, with what we have right now.
The fruit from a body of Christ who know their identity and are rooted in deep relationship with Jesus and with each other is sweet, nourishing, beautiful, and bountiful. I’m so looking forward to the harvest.