Posts Tagged ‘Greatness’

Receiving Others as Gifts: Mutuality in Giving & Receiving

20140314-135655.jpg

This is the first post in my new series about “Receiving Others as Gifts.” For background to this series, please read the introduction from last week: Introducing a New Series on Receiving Others as Gifts. To see all of my blog posts related to this subject, check out the tag: Others as Gifts.

I love the Kenneth Bailey video on footwashing that I posted back in November. I love everything about that video really. But most especially meaningful to me was how he made the case for how radical footwashing is and then how he lifted out the verse about how we ought to wash one anothers’ feet!

Bailey talked about the power dynamics at play when service is rendered. The idea was that service as we are called to is often from a position of power–the one has something the other needs–the giver is the one with the power.

Bailey rightly points out the danger of using service as a power play.

The way to guard against the power dynamics getting out of hand , then, is to wash one anothers’ feet–for each one to take turns both giving service to and receiving service from one another.

When it comes to receiving others as gifts, I think this idea of mutual giving & receiving is really important. The temptation to always be the one giving is great in our busy world.

We don’t want someone else to be put out. And we certainly don’t want to feel like we owe someone for some service they’ve rendered!

No, we’d rather be the ones doing the giving, doing the serving, doing that thing that puts someone else in our debt. Oh, of course, we don’t expect them to repay us–but that only heightens the sense of indebtedness that the one served may feel.

The most profound act of service we can render is to receive service from another, to lay down our need to be large and in charge and to humble ourselves enough to allow another to be or do for us something that we cannot do or be on our own.

Admitting that we can’t be all things to all people is often scary. To own our limitations and our neediness is not comfortable or automatic. It is a deliberate choice to drop our sense of superiority, to drop our self-centeredness, and to allow someone else to be greater or more central to us than we’d like.

Another feature of that Bailey video mentioned above is he calls attention to the bond that is formed when service is given and received. The two parties are brought into closer relationship by the service given and received.

We can choose to decline the service offered to us–I mean, we may not always need what is offered at exactly the time and place it is being offered. But to decline the service of others is to distance ourselves from those offering it.

We may have our reasons to decline, but it is wise to be aware of the cost. If we continually deny others the opportunity to serve us we may find ourselves in total isolation.

We may end up so far removed from others as to have no meaningful, sustaining community on which to rely when we eventually realize that we need it.

Plus, if we allow ourselves to become isolated by refusing to be served, then we’ll have no one left who needs or relies on us! Our own best service will be useless if we have no one close enough to us to receive what we have to offer.

I’m convinced that we need each other in this life. We need the gifts and service of others and they need ours too. This mutual giving and receiving is part of God’s original intent for us and Jesus affirms it.

May we be blessed by and be a blessing to others through our serving one another.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

How The Internet is Almost as Funny as God

20131213-232729.jpg

Who knew the Internet and God had this one thing in common–a be-careful-what-you-wish-for sense of humor?

God recently showed his sense of humor when he answered my prayer for more preaching opportunities.

In my current setting I don’t have a formal, ongoing, paid position in my church. Instead, I use my Deaconess training* here and there with a mix of paid and volunteer tasks in my own church and in other churches around my area.

Some of my most favorite work–times I feel most alive–are the times when I get to preach or speak. I’m still working on developing a formal speaking ministry. But the preaching opportunities are easier to come by when neighboring pastors need back-up, so I prayed for more of them.

It had been months since I preached last, but then, this fall, my church invited me to preach our Advent series. That would be 3 chances to preach and I was thrilled! Then a neighboring pastor called me with an additional 3 dates this month for which he needed back-up.

Suddenly here was December with 6 chances to preach! I just had to laugh at God’s sense of humor in answering my prayer in such a big way!

In a similar way, the Internet showed its sense of humor when it challenged my fears about being relevant with my blog. Last week I wrote the post How Being “Relevant” Eludes Me (click the title to read that post) and I lamented to the Internet:

I have a ton of ideas about what I want to write about. But I just never know what’s going to resonate with people.

I watch my blog stats (the details that I can view as a blog administrator about how many visits there are to my blog and what posts are being viewed) more closely than I need to. And I fret when something I feel good about doesn’t get as many views as I wish it did. And I hope, in admitted vanity, that this blog will really take off.

I know all the right things I should be thinking about my blog–that if even one person is touched by my writing then I am doing good work here. And I am always, always glad to know when that one person is touched. Please keep writing comments and e-mails and Tweets and Facebook messages to let me know because, truly, that’s what keeps me going when one person at a time is indeed touched by my work.

But right or wrong, I want to reach more people. And sometimes I shake my fists at the Internet and ask, in all ignorance, “What’s it going to take?”

And the Internet seems not to answer.

And then I had this really crummy day when I almost didn’t write anything. Except I have been trying to write more often and I was determined to post on Monday or Tuesday. Monday was a migraine day and I truly could not write. So it was Tuesday or bust. And despite my depression knocking me down, the idea of skipping Tuesday was worse than the idea of cranking out something irrelevant.

And so, I wrote Eat, Sleep, Preach: A Deaconess in Depression (click the title to see that post) and that post got a lot of attention. In fact, it became my most viewed post ever! Wednesday was my all-time biggest day on the blog. Lots and lots of people reached out to me in one way or another to express empathy or appreciation for what I wrote. Thanks to all who supported me by reading, responding to, or sharing the post. I am deeply grateful.

And I had to laugh at the Internet’s way of giving me such a big day over a post that I almost didn’t write on a day when I just wanted to stay in bed.

See what I mean? God and the Internet are both hilarious!

* I was trained and consecrated by the Lutheran Deaconess Association (LDA), an independent Lutheran diaconate based in Valparaiso, Indiana. The LDA allows me to keep the title of Deaconess despite not having a formal call as they recognize a wide range of service as diaconal. For more about my journey of becoming a Deaconess, see my post How I Became a Deaconess (click the title to read that post).

Secondary Infertility and Layers of Angst

I wrote on my blog before about my history of infertility and how I lament that I can’t have another child, I lament my broken body. And while that is true, there is more to it than that. I alluded to it a little in that previous post:

Is there still hope that I could technically get the right treatments, eat the right foods and eventually conceive again?

Probably.

See, that probability could be more in reach than I let on. I mean, there are some relatively simple steps with my health that I could take but I am not taking. And partly why I don’t do those things is because there is part of me that doesn’t want more kids.

I wrote once before about my history of depression and anxiety and how that is a factor in why I am reticent about having more kids:

I sunk to rock-bottom depression in my early days post-partum and at some point after having my son the anxiety kicked in…I mentioned before that my history of infertility is the biggest reason why I don’t have more than one kid, but this depression/anxiety stuff factors in pretty prominently too.

So, I’m disappointed yet a little glad that I can’t because I don’t want to anyway because I was such a depressed mess the first time around.

But there is more.

There is the part that I don’t want to tell but somehow I feel like God wants me to work out. There is the plain old reality that I just don’t want to for my own reasons.

I know my great longing is not a secret, because it is all over this blog. I want this blog to be something to serve others, but so often I am absorbed in all my own drama here. So I have already revealed what I really want.

I want to give birth to more speaking and writing.

You can have it all, just not all at once.And I just can’t give birth to that if I am to have another baby. They say you can have it all, just not all at once, and I believe them.

When my son was small, he required so much, so very much of me. From breastfeeding to bed-wetting, the demands were around-the-clock for so many of his younger years. Add into that the hours-on-end of hands-on involvement during the day–I took seriously the caution not to allow screentime until age 3, the advice to not leave a young child unattended even for a moment. So, I spent a lot of time right there with him, shaping his days, playing games, and telling him stories.

I don’t begrudge him any of that.

I just know myself well enough to know that if that was my reality all over again, then I couldn’t do the speaking and writing that I want to do, you know, with grown-ups.

My son is 9 years old now and halfway to college already! And with his advancing years, he is more independent than ever. Now he is reading fluently and can lose himself in a National Geographic while I write a bit. And the older he gets, being a guy and all, the more he wants to spend time with his dad–so that means more time for me to work on preparing for a talk I’m going to give.

My son still needs me, of course. But more of me is freer now than when he was little little. And I like it this way, this me-being-freer way.

So, why do I feel so guilty about wanting what I want and enjoying my freedom?

I mean, all the time, women of “normal” fertility decide to stop making more babies. They could have more, but they don’t. So, why do I, for whom baby-making does not come so easily, feel so guilty for “I don’t want to”?

Maybe it’s not the “I don’t want to” that I feel guilty about so much as the hiding behind the “I can’t” narrative.

Hiding behind “I can’t” has been an excuse to not directly seek God’s will. If I just stick to the “I can’t” script, then I don’t have to know what God wants for my future. If I can’t, I can’t, right? So God can’t possibly expect me to do what I can’t do.

But, what if I stop hiding behind, “I can’t” and just be honest with God about “I don’t want to because there’s other stuff I want to do instead”? What if I invite God into this complexity of emotion, into these layers of angst?

Ah, though, the trouble with that is what if God doesn’t affirm what I think I want to do? What if this whole speaking and writing stuff is just my will, my want?

I wrestle all the time with sorting out my motives. I want to believe that what I want is what God wants. I have an inkling that this other stuff is where God is calling me. I have a pretty clear vision about what that work might entail.

But for me, moving more fully into the speaking and writing entails having that baby-making stuff behind me. And until I stop hiding behind my assertion of “I can’t” and really ask God whether it is okay to not to, then what I actually can’t do is move forward in anything with any degree of certainty.

Lord, I submit this to you. Grant me the courage and confidence to know and move forward in your will. Amen

Shrinking, Shirking and Shutting Down

20130726-181414.jpgSo this whole self-image and self-importance thing has been a theme here lately on the blog. What I thought was going to be a simple post about a little snippet of The Deaconess Litany has turned into a mini-series complete with lots of my own drama.

Dana Hanson, one of my fellow contributors at Life and Liberty had a sermon about “Self-Forgetfulness” that made me really wish I could get myself out of my own way! (Have I mentioned what an extraordinary tribe it is that I’ve found there?) But I’m not quite able to forget myself just yet.

I gotta keep writing about this stuff because it is exactly what God is doing in my life right now. And working through this is part of how I am living out my faith (which, of course is the tagline of this very site). Also, I think that awareness and mindfull release of unhealthy self-focus is better than pretending I’ve already got this figured out.

So far I’ve shared about my desire for fame and glory (that bit from The Deaconess Litany about thinking too highly of myself). But I haven’t said as much about the other side of me that wants to hide, to shrink away from what God has called me to do.

The Deaconess Litany requests “the mind of Christ” that we not “deprecate ourselves in unbelief, calling common what you have called clean.” The temptation to dismiss my own gifts has been all too great over the years.

I’ve found myself relegating my creativity to paper crafts that hardly anyone sees instead of putting words on paper to share as widely as possible as God put on my heart in high school.

I have kept many of my ideas quiet instead of using the speaking ability that God has given me.

Why? Because I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t think I mattered. What good is it to write if nobody wants to read it? What good is it to speak if nobody wants to hear it?

In a lot of ways, I just shut down. I shirked my calling because I decided for the world that my voice was better off muted.

A funny thing happens when you don’t write or speak, nobody knows that you have something to say. And if you’re not saying it, they’re not listening because there’s nothing to hear!

It is only in daring to share that you can have any sense of whether what you want to say matters. So for my lost years when I was busy hiding and assuming nobody cares, I was getting zero actual feedback.

There may have been a time or two that I tried to pipe up but was given a gag order. But to universalize that negative feedback was to do myself and my gifts a disservice. And ultimately to not do what God was calling me to, was indeed an act of “unbelief.” I was “calling common” or unimportant what God had already blessed and set before me.

So then, if I am walking with God, submitting my will and my ego to Jesus, and praying in the Spirit that other people will hear the Gospel through me, maybe I will indeed soon forget myself after all!

Thanks be to God!

What about you? Are there things that you feel drawn by God to do, but you’re dragging your feet? What is holding you back?

Sifting Out Selfish Pride

photoI recently posted about my own vacillation between longing for greatness and totally dismissing my own worth. In that post, I promised I would write more about how “the mind Christ” can help us avoid these extremes. But before I do that I want to go a little deeper into the struggle.

I was afraid I would scare everyone away with admitting how my pride tends to puff me up. Instead, I was amazingly encouraged by comments here and on Facebook, and by private contacts from close family and friends. I don’t take that encouragement lightly.

I don’t want to let that encouragement give me an excuse to cover up the ugly pride that is in me. Instead, I want to lean into the support I’ve been offered. I want to put my longing for greatness under a little more scrutiny. I want to sift the good intentions from the selfish pride.

Sifting Through the Feedback

Some of the feedback was from folks who seemed to resonate with the pendulum between thinking too highly and thinking too lowly of ourselves. So, I’m glad I’m not the only one who goes back and forth! I was relieved to know that other people seemed to understand the need to hold both extremes in check.

Much of the feedback I got was more directly related to my longing for greatness. One person related the idea of “greatness” to a quest for excellence. I thought that was brilliant! I admire people that have that drive. I kind-of wish I could say that is what my desire for greatness is about.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intentions of trying to get by with poor writing or half-baked speeches. I want to do well what I do, but that is a matter of integrity for me and I don’t think it quite relates to my urge for greatness. It may for some people be their drive to be “great,” but that’s not primarily what this is about for me.

Another angle of feedback from multiple sources was the acknowledgment of the mixed motives involved in wanting to be great. Folks were extraordinarily gracious in pointing out that there are some good reasons to want to be great–like the opportunity to touch more people’s lives.

That is part of why I want to be “great.” I want to write and speak in order to help other people. I want to make my story available to others so they can be encouraged. The more well-known I am, the more people I can reach with what I write and say. This is true, but there is more to it than that.

The Zinger

One of the bits of feedback I got was from David Housholder and he said simply, “Make the big time where you are” and provided a link to reflections about and recordings of his college football coach, Frosty Westering. I popped over to Housholder’s site and listened to his podcast about his coach and part of an interview with Coach Westering’s own voice. I urge you to go listen too.

Coach Westering was as much about building character as he was about coaching football. Coach Westering’s advice to “Make the big time where you are,” was essentially to not worry about how well-known you are, but to do great things wherever you are in life in whatever tasks are before you.

And that was it. Right there!

So much of my longing for greatness is I want to be well-known, I want to be famous! It is hard to be content with the right-here, right-now being my “big time.” It is wicked hard. Making the big time where I am? Where’s the glory, my glory, in that?

There it is, the ugly nugget that needs sifted out: my selfish desire for my own glory.

Of course I have good motives, but that self-serving desire for greatness sometimes takes on a life of it’s own. I don’t want it to take over. I want the good and right motives to take their proper place. I want to make the big time where I am.

But that nugget, it’s a heavy one…and there are parts of it that are kind-of shiny. It’s not an easy one to cast aside, my friends. Which of course, is all the more reason to write about it. And it is all the more reason why I need the mind of Christ.