“Your husband is going to leave you!” A little old Indonesian man wagged his finger in my face, his shouting drawing a crowd. “You can’t give him children, so he’s going to find some other woman who will!”
I just wanted some bananas. I’d been to this roadside fruit stand probably a hundred times since moving to Indonesia a couple years previous.
I didn’t know him. Never met the guy. But since two of the first questions anyone—even the lady who sells me bananas—asks are “Are you married?” and “How many kids do you have?” I figured most people there knew about me.
The childless (by choice) wife of seven years. Now an outcast, sweating it out on the small Indonesian island where I’d moved, leaving home, family, familiarity, job, identity, and confidence behind.
Holding my green bananas in my trembling hands, and not knowing what to do or say, I simply walked away. But I was mad. For the Indonesian women I knew who couldn’t have kids and who had had husbands leave them for it. And for myself, for being so misunderstood, so unappreciated, so judged. When all I really wanted to do was buy bananas. And to serve. In peace. With no one yelling at me.
I eventually had kids—three of them. And those specific questions and accusations have stopped in this place that fits women best into the place as mothers and wives.
Thankfully, I serve in a place where I am usually accepted, where I have dear friends, where I get to serve with purpose and enjoy a place rich in culture and kind, generous people.
But there are still times when I spend my day serving, not for warm fuzzy feelings and others’ gratitude, but with their criticism and my fears, their unbelief and my own doubts, their messiness and my own disappointments.
I’ve been sharing about how to Serve with Joy in the Messy Places. I’ve shared how we should not be motivated to serve by guilt, or paralyzed from serving due to fear. I’ve shared how one healthy motivation in serving others is God’s love for us.
Today I want to share my final post on this series. How to let God’s love for others be our motivation for serving them.
I wish life in Indonesia was like those commercials. You know, the ones with the starving children being fed as they are serenaded by touching music. The ones with where needs are met, help is accepted, a thank you is given, and endings are happy.
But just when I’m tempted to serve because I love the people or to serve so that the people will love me, I have one of those banana days. Sometimes I feel justified in my annoyance, my anger. I feel like I have the right to run from the people who laugh and point fingers when I’ve made another language mistake. I don’t feel like I should have to befriend the woman who criticizes how I raise my kids, or worse, who criticizes how my Indonesian friend tries to raise her autistic son. I have no desire to love the man who beat up my friend with a hammer, her little girl watching.
And sometimes I’m annoyed because I’m tired, hot, and just plain human.
The reality of serving, or working, or being in a family, or trying to be a good friend, or living in a neighborhood—anywhere in the world—is that it’s messy. Even the person who seems the kindest, who seems to love you, can end up being the one who hurts you the most in the end. And the one who you love to love can be the one who needs more than you can possibly give them.
And no matter how much I want to, I just can’t serve with joy if I’m doing it because I love the people I serve or because they love me. If I expect human love to provide the bridge, it sends me on a hamster wheel of doing more, giving more, sacrificing more to both show my love and to earn their love.
Or if I stop serving because I simply can’t love that person, then I miss out on seeing Him work in both their messiness and mine.
But if I serve because God loves me and God loves the people I serve, it frees me. To rest in His compassion, not on my try-hard service. To give from His abundant love, not from my limited altruism. To see people from His gentle perspective, not judge people from my lofty pride.
When I serve people because God loves them, it turns me from a doormat that wants to give everything I have to make them love me into a door through which He gave Himself to offer life-changing love to them...and me.
photo credit, PinkMoose