Continuing this theme of grace in serving, today I’m writing to address the following question from the Stepping In panel:
“When has God called you to step out of your comfort zone to serve, and what was the result?”
God hasn’t asked me to do anything inside my comfort zone in quite a while, but I’ll share my experience with a favorite ministry – Gospel Village, the thing that introduced me to these two:
It’s been over three years since I met them. A girl and a boy whose kind, joyful brightness captured our hearts. They are sister and brother, the oldest of eight children, and they’ve given their lives to following Jesus but also live with the effects and challenges of generational poverty.
We are blessed to know them, thanks to Gospel Village, a local collaboration of churches to minister to children of low-income environments. In its beginning stages, their mission statement described the mentoring process as investments into these kids’ lives for the purpose of earning a hearing for the gospel, and I love that!
My husband and I have been mentoring these kids for nearly three years and we’ve seen The Lord do incredible things in the life of this sweet family, but what I’ve mostly learned during this time is that I know nothing.
Truly, every part of it seems to be about humbling us, revealing our inadequacy. I’m beginning to think that could be the main point of Christians serving the poor, proving to us serving that we don’t have the answers, they’re never simple ones anyways, and we cannot fix things for people – only God’s grace can. Every part of it screams that I don’t have what it takes for this mission and with nothing inside of me to rely on, it thrusts me into God’s adequacy rather than my flimsy attempts to help. It brings me into his presence like nothing else because it’s in serving these sweet ones that I find I have nothing to give.
I remember when this relationship began. My firstborn, five years old at the time, and I spent a year working with children at an after-school program at a government-funded housing complex. I was excited to begin, but I had never felt so out of my element as I did when I showed up to serve that day. I literally contributed nothing. I was working with children older than my own, so I didn’t know what their lives were like and had no idea how to relate. I didn’t even know how to start conversations with the kids, and I followed a more-experienced friend around, trying to piggyback off the conversations she started so naturally. I had worked with children as a nanny years before, but I didn’t embrace the camp counselor gig or anything like that. I didn’t seem to have the personality for leading big groups of kids. They overwhelmed me by their number, and the pressure to engage with them in fun, meaningful ways paralyzed me. Preoccupied with trying not to wear my insecurities in such an obvious way, I’m certain they only stood out more. There was no one there more awkward than me. It may be the only experience I’ve had where I didn’t talk. (Miracle!) But I returned, week after week, pretty sure I had absolutely nothing to offer but knowing that for some reason I was supposed to be there.
It was at this after school program that I met them. I saw them every week and they saw me. I did notice something special in both of them. Within me was a longing to draw them out more and get to know them in a deeper way, but I had no idea how to do it. So I didn’t say much, failing over and over in my feeble attempts to engage them in conversation. I just kept showing up. Over the next several months, I played board games and helped with homework, frustrated because I wasn’t getting anywhere in relationship with them.
Until I did.
I remember the night I showed up to watch a performance she was in. I recall the one compliment I gave her, affirming a talent God had clearly given her, and in a moment, she was opened up to relationship with me. I began noticing that she was listening for what I would say. There was something noticeably different in her reception of me. One little comment, really heard by her, after months of just showing up. There was nothing spectacular about my ministry to her – and not one thing comfortable – but merely being a consistent presence in her life earned a place to speak encouragement and life into her heart when the perfect opportunity came. Everything about my present relationship with her – and my husband’s relationship with her brother – really stemmed from that one little thing. I can’t get over how the favor of God had been all over that relationship and that one remark, and I’m amazed at how little it had to do with my skills or comfort level.
All I have to be is available.
I’m not getting to move on from this lesson. In fact, the longer I mentor, the more aware I become of how little I know. The relationship part is easier, but new challenges emerge all the time. I’ve read books about poverty, participated in discussion groups, and hardly missed a training opportunity. I’ve thrown myself into learning more about the poverty mindset, and I’ve done everything I can to make sure I’m “Helping Without Hurting.”
Yet questions remain and even intensify. What I used to think was simple is so obviously not. I want to know the answers. What do these kids need to help them break out of the cycle they were born into? How can their family get out of the hole they’re in? What is truly helpful, and what is enabling irresponsibility? What are the solutions today for them to make it until tomorrow? It’s more complex than I ever imagined, and mostly all I feel is confused.
But I’m learning that it’s ok for God to not give me all of these answers. I just keep pressing into Him and keep showing up for them. It may not be easy to be this lost, but God’s grace is all over that place. He repeatedly writes on my heart the gospel truths that I am nothing, He is everything, and because of that, I can know a fullness of life that I wouldn’t otherwise know if not for his presence flooding the empty spaces in my heart.
Uncomfortable is fine. Inadequate is good. God will use it, and in the process, he will draw us closer to him and somehow – miraculously – he’ll bless others through it too.
As you’ve followed God into uncomfortable places, what are some of the resulting lessons he’s written on your heart? Any of those places he’s calling you to now?