When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; when they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Psalm 126
“What would bless you?”
It’s a simple question I ask a friend in a random, after church conversation. She leads a ministry called Sticky Fingers; a time for mums to converse while their little people play together. I’m praying for discernment as I consider involvement. Her answer seems like confirmation.
“I don’t need help with the practical bits – setting up and cleaning up afterward. I just need for you to talk to the mums. I don’t always have time to make connections with everyone and having you around to do that would be helpful.”
My family members will tell you that talking to people is one of the things that makes me happy. If engaging in conversation with people were a spiritual gift, it would be obvious God gave me that one in abundance. My H and kids can give you countless examples of waiting for me from an idling car in the parking lot while I finish conversations.
But chatting to serve people? That sort of feels insignificant in terms of impact.
Because in order for ministry to be worth an investment of time and resources, we often want to see measurable outcomes.
What if God’s highest expectation for us during this third week of Advent is to engage in the sacrament of presence; being with people just because we love them?
Is our time with people valuable even if the time can’t be calculated into measured outcomes?
Let’s face it, if we can’t calculate meaningful outcomes from serving in December, we feel guilty for saying yes to opportunities. Because time is precious and terribly limited.
Many of us will agree to volunteer our time away, not because we find joy in expressing the gifts He has lavished upon us, but because saying no brings on feelings of guilt.
He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30
Maybe your gifts seem less important than those of a friend or co-worker. You find pleasure in doing — cleaning up after people, cooking food for groups, making spreadsheets for events — but that doesn’t lead to platforms that reach large numbers of people. Your contribution feels small, unseen, and insignificant.
Perhaps like me, you are a relater at the core and a lack of volunteerism for more practical tasks makes you feel like a slacker. While you chat with strangers, your friends stack chairs, wipe tables, and empty trash cans, making your contribution seem minor.
May I remind of you of something important?
Christmas is a gift; it is not about guilt. God doesn’t need your guilt-ridden service; he needs your gifts that make an impact for the Kingdom.
On Thursday, I arrive at church and a row of strollers decorates the entrance. As I pull gloves off hands and untie the scarf around my neck, my eyes meet with an expat and two-year-old daughter hugging her leg; a Swedish nanny and the Finnish boy she looks after; a British mum carrying twins in her tummy; and a whole lot of lonely, isolated women longing for adult conversation.
During a snack break, while tiny fingers hold carrot sticks and grapes around a giant table, I chat with a Canadian mum about how dull it is not to have a tumble dryer in London. Her eyes light up when she divulges a secret: her mother is gifting her a portable dishwasher, meaning she no longer must hand wash every piece of cutlery.
An invitation to join three mums for coffee afterward and “you remind me so much of my Mum that it makes me want to cry” are evidence that I’ve wasted time well not producing anything measurable. And I may have reached “that age” even though I’ve tried avoiding it.
What would bless you? It’s a question we must ask God first before we respond to viable opportunities to serve Him.
And then ponder this question: How has God created you to enjoy him? Your answer will be unique to how God made you; a hint to finding ultimate purpose. What unique contribution do you bring to the room?
In this third week of Advent, are you wasting time with guilt? Because saying no can be glorifying to God too.
What activities “waste time” by breathing life back into your soul?
Be the Gift to those who need Hope this Christmas and let’s leave guilt at the curb!
Lord, search my heart and reveal hidden motives masked by good deeds. You tell us that the heart is deceitful above all things and yet, I loathe to believe it. When I am prone to fill a need with service, help me to discern this: Am I responding to a nudge from the Holy Spirit or to the need of being needed by people more than you? Forgive me when guilt, over love, propels me to serve. I love you and I long to glorify you in all that I do. Show me what brings a smile to your face today, and every day thereafter. Give me the courage to be still when life becomes frenetic. May the song of your still, small voice be my anthem and finale this third week of Advent.
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.
“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah: 65:17-19; 24-25
Our Advent conversation continues this Friday in the Sabbath Society letter. Join the community here and receive my weekly epistle quietly into your inbox every Friday morning at 6am EST. For further information about how to make Christmas more restful and less stressful begin here with the introduction and details about the series. Follow me on Instagram for more of lovely London in December.
This was perfect for me this morning, Shelly. We have a new ministry in our community to serve kids–primarily unchurched and often impoverished. I had a conversation this week with someone mentioning that they need someone to teach “skill classes” and I struggled to think of anything I had to offer that would be practical. So, I let my mind wander. Do you know where it went? First to speech instruction–how to give an introductory speech. Then to my real love–how to carry on a conversation. I’m not sure if anyone else will think this is a necessary, practical skill, but I do. It’s kind of a lost and dying art. You certainly blessed me this morning.
Lovely post, Shelly, and freeing, really. I had to smile when I read about your family waiting while you talk. Poor Mike has actually had to leave the car running in the portico and walk back into the sanctuary to find me–yes, talking still! (He sometimes picks up his high-heeled wife after church service–because it would take longer for me to walk in those shoes than he is willing to wait; but ha! He has to wait anyway). And when thirty women descended on us last Saturday for our annual Christmas luncheon and program (Scripture, my talk, and carols/special music), so many of them lingered to keep talking, that we talked till 5:00! Anyway, for an introvert like me, it’s interesting that I love to talk to women so much. And I do so without guilt. But I feel guilty when volunteers are requested at church for craft things or sewing which I do not do well… or even making sandwiches in assembly lines, b/c I move slowly and am all thumbs. I truly stall their process. I don’t want to be seen as an uncooperative prima donna. But what is my motive here for plodding along (badly) in these areas? Guilt. You are so right. I think a solution is to find what you do well and enjoy doing (because basically they go together). So on those mission days with the women at church, I asked if I could sit and write letters to shut-ins and to our pastors and church staff for all *their* service. The lady in charge loved the idea. So I guess I enjoy blessing others most with my written words (in cards, letters, emails, newsletters, and books). That does take time when I could be seeing someone personally. However, you can’t *see* and talk to everyone in person, and I figure this is a way I can reach out near and far, and they can keep conversing w/ me over and over again as they reread what I have written.
I love your series. Thank you for serving so well!
AMEN to your prayer, Shelly: “Show me what brings a smile to your face today, and every day thereafter.” Indeed! For the Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve services at our church, my husband and I have volunteered to care for the toddlers. Many people would probably consider that job rather insignificant and impact-less. But it is our gift to the parents, and ultimately to God–a gift that I think WILL bring a smile to His face. As you pointed out, the outcomes are up to Him. Thank you for an uplifted perspective, Shelly!