If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:3
In the past three years I have been lied to, my name slandered, and robbed by more people than I can count. The most destructive crimes were committed by those I trusted the most. I find myself at a very unhealthy place. I am jaded, burned out, angry and fearful of those I was called to care for. I have forgotten why I started doing this in the first place. I find myself isolating and self protecting, unwilling to risk and unwilling to care.
I realized this week just how broken I am. I realized that I no longer know the stories of those who enter our doors and even more sadly, that I do not care. I feel so incapable of helping, so unprepared for this call. Despite all the prayers I have prayed, all the time spent encouraging and loving those that have come and gone before, many are no better off than the day I met them. Many are still caught in addiction or trapped in self destructive lifestyles. I have sacrificed time with my family, our financial well-being, and my emotional health and now wonder why.
In September, CARITAS absorbed the furniture bank component of Embrace and hired me to run it. For the first time in more than eight years, I was actually being paid for my efforts. I spent the past four months since the merger perfecting my managerial skills and focusing on building an organization. I decided I would be a better manager than a minister and that was what everyone seemed to want from me. So I established some new boundaries, emotionally distanced myself from everyone, and focused on those things that “I” have control over such as the systems for furniture distribution and the processes for doing aftercare.
However, the past anger and disappointment is still festering just below the surface and I find myself lonely, isolated, and in a constant state of fear, just waiting for the next disaster or disappointment. I thought what I needed was protection from the storms that are a natural part of this kind of ministry, but what I need is the grace to stand firmly in the midst of the storm.
God placed a very wise woman by the name of Martha in my life. She is involved in a similar ministry to people whom the world has beaten up and abused; people like those who have hurt me. Martha too has endured the pain of unspeakable persecution at the hand of those she is called to care for; things far worse than I have had to endure.
A few weeks ago, at the height of my pity party, I went to see Martha and shared my desire to escape. Martha said to me “God has you in this fiery furnace for a reason and won’t let you out until you are purified. God has a lesson for you to learn and until you learn it you will stay in the furnace.” I have been pondering Martha’s comments for weeks.
I have come to realize that I have been heading in the wrong direction. My natural answer to pain was “avoid it”, cut myself off from the source of pain, isolate and hide so that I won’t get hurt. I realized this week just how unhealthy that approach was making me. When I cut myself off from all possible sources of pain, I also cut myself off from the joy and I forget that despite the many failures I have endured; there have also been some astounding moments of grace; moments when I have seen God move in small but powerful ways.
I am convinced the way back to health and wholeness for me is to stop fearing and simply start loving again. I need to focus on growing in faith and stop living out of fear. I need to remember that in the end, it is not about success but faithfulness. And I need to trust that God is in it all, the good and the bad.
During my visit with Martha she suggested I read the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-12
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
My friend Martha urged me to “count it all joy”; I know there is great wisdom in these words. I wish I could say I am there, but of course I have only just begun to understand this mystery. I am just beginning to understand the power of Christ love to bind up my broken heart and just learning how in my weakness Christ can make me strong. I pray someday I will be able to say “I count it all joy” because I will have loved much. I have a long journey ahead, but it feels good to at least know how to find the door out of this furnace. Thanks Martha for your words of wisdom!