“Wherever I go, I steal. I can’t help myself.”
I had known my Indonesian friend for a couple of years, long enough for our sons to grow into busy toddlers, sharing toys, swapping words.
Long enough for me to learn about other hard things in her life…painful marriage, difficulties with her son’s health, hurt in her heart. But I had no idea she was a kleptomaniac.
The first thing I thought was, did she take anything from my house?
Thankfully, I kept that thought to myself.
Instead we talked about the real issues behind the symptoms. Her feelings that she was disappointing God. Her realization that she was so broken. My own ways that I had disappointed God. My own perpetual falling short of all I hoped to be. And the truth and hope and life that His brokenness created in my heart. The forgiveness available to us all. No matter what we’ve taken or destroyed or kept hidden in darkness.
It was one of the most real conversations I’ve ever had with another woman. And there’s something powerful in seeing those deep, dark secrets brought into the light, watching the fear from words never spoken turn into relief at acceptance.
And it changed our relationship. We spent the next year moving quickly past small talk, and I shared true things despite my own fears. The fears that I would offend. That she would reject. That she would never believe that things could ever change for her.
And yes, sometimes in my weaker moments, when I would drive her to the store, or welcome her into my home, I wondered. What did she take? What’s missing?
In all honesty, it’s a realistic picture of ministry, of life, of relationships. This give and take. Sometimes more take than give. And sometimes the taking feels like stealing.
Even when the relationships are so open, so preciously real, sometimes there is a cost.
And isn’t that why we fear when we serve in the messy places? (See parts 1, 2 and 3 of my series on this topic.) We fear what we’ll have to give up. We fear what others will take.
And isn’t that why we serve out of guilt? We feel guilty for what we think we may have taken from others, for what we won’t let others take from us.
For the eight years I’ve been serving in Indonesia, five of which I’ve served as a mom to my kids…for the 13 years I’ve been a wife, and some amount of my 35 years as a daughter, sister, friend…I’ve been learning.
How to Serve with Joy in the Messy Places. With Messy People. Myself Included. In those roles as Mom, Wife, Friend, Teammate, Neighbor, Volunteer, Employee. Where people sometimes steal from me. Where they take my energy. My space. My sleep. My time with my husband. My smiles. My “rights.”
And I’ve learned to let two motivations guide me. The first?
I am motivated to serve in all those roles by God’s love for me.
I try not to be driven to serve by guilt, not paralyzed to serve by fear. Not moved to action by the hope of acceptance or peace or results or good stories that I can tell others, or the chance to matter.
Instead I serve because of God’s love for me.
And I’ve learned that love is bigger than those things that I lose. Whether the things I lose are things I’m freely giving, or things that others take from me, His love is bigger. It’s bigger than the stress and the fatigue and the disappointment and the failures. It’s bigger than my ideas, my “successes,” my pride. It’s bigger than my own mess-ups, the “what was I thinking?” moments. It's bigger than the things that I, regretfully, take from others.
Maybe you’re a mom too. All tired out by what you used to freely give and now feels like it’s being taken from you. Maybe you’re overseas and your house was just broken into for the umpteenth time by the people you gave up everything to serve.
Maybe your marriage was taken from you, ending in signatures surrounded by legalese. Maybe your childhood was stolen, replaced by addiction or abuse or death or lies.
Whatever that Messy thing you’re facing, wherever you are, wherever you’re working, serving, giving, you can have it too. That love that floods the holes, that fills the cracks, that binds the brokenness. That love that will always be there even if it's the only thing you have left.
And you don’t have to steal to get it. He gave it freely. We can take it freely. And we can give it away without losing the eternal grace, joy and life for ourselves.
Next time I'll share another motivation that helps us Serve with Joy in the Messy Places.
photo credit, Lel4nd