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    The Danger of Romanticizing “the Ministry”

    April 2, 2015

    I watch boys on Wednesday nights. Lots of rambunctious, loud, sweaty, muddy-sneakered boys in continuous motion. I can barely keep up with them or imagine a game entertaining enough to hold their attention for a nanosecond. God must think He’s playing a funny joke on me for all those times I was pregnant and thought I had to have a boy, but ended up with four girls.

    I came home last night and one of those girls asked how it went. “It is so haaaaaaaaaaaard!” I said. I went on to remind her, how I do every week, of how rambunctious, loud, sweaty, muddy-sneakered and non-stop those boys are.

    Mind you, they are good boys. They are loved and cared for at home. They are smart, hilarious in the way boys are hilarious (think lots of fart jokes. Never-ending fart jokes) and creative. But they are boys. And I don’t do boys. For eighteen years, all I’ve done is girls. I can do nail art, hair chalk and celebrity crushes. I can even do all-out hormonal meltdowns and cat-fights about clothes. Give me emotional drama any day; I can confiscate an iPod faster than you can say “Tom Hiddleston” and make it all stop in a split second. I can do girls.

    But I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to stop a 100-pound mass of spinning muscle and dirt from destroying the church nursery as he’s simply being a… boy. If you are the mother of just one of these, I am kissing every inch of the sacred ground your feet have trodden, my friend.

    After boy duty last night, I collapsed into bed and had a dream. A most wonderful dream. I dreamed we were adopting a sweet little Indian boy who’d been abandoned by his mother. He was about three, with thick black hair and the most adorable little accent that ever met your ears (don’t ask me how he knew English, okay? It was a dream). I tenderly scrubbed the India off his skin and made him a bedroom with a mat on the floor, which he preferred to a bed. I announced it on Facebook: “We adopting a boy!” It was a dream come true for my girls, to have a brother. An adorable little Indian brother with an accent. I was in love and would raise this bundle of sweetness to know he was loved.

    It was a little disappointing to wake up to reality. It would have been fun, adopting a little dark-skinned boy with an accent. As I lay there for a few minutes pondering the dream, I felt God’s gentle whisper on hard ears:

    My darling, I have given you this boy already, many times over.

    Suddenly I remembered the boy’s name in the dream. Clear as day, his name was Samuel. That’s the name he’d come with, and we’d decided to keep it.

    Instantly I knew what God was telling me. In the Old Testament, Samuel was sent away to be raised in the temple by a worn-out priest. Unlike the boys I watch on Wednesdays, Samuel didn’t have the luxury of a loving mother tucking him in every night. He had Eli, an old man who couldn’t keep his own kids under control.

    One night Samuel heard a voice that he assumed to be Eli’s. “Samuel. Samuel.” Who was that calling his name?

    I can just see Eli, dragging his tired old bones out of bed, muttering, “What is it this time?” And when he saw that boy’s dirt-streaked face in the moonlight, and heard what had happened, he knew in that moment it was high time he start doing the work of the ministry. It was all up to that worn-out priest to teach that energetic little boy how to hear the voice of the One who had a plan for Samuel beyond his wildest dreams.

    My mind drifted to those “Wednesday night boys” and I knew. Those boys are Samuel. God has sent them to the temple, and it’s up to me to decide if I am going to merely “babysit” them until they’re too old for the program, or be a voice guiding them into their God-ordained futures of wonder and purpose.

    The boy in my dream was my “Bible class” on Wednesday nights, which more often looks like a zoo with all the cages unlocked. The boy in my dream was my “dream ministry”, while the boys in my church class had been the thing that I’ve too often done “because someone has to do it.” The problem with romanticizing “the ministry” is we don’t see true ministry when it’s right under our nose. All we see is the mess and the stress.

    To all those dreamers who “just want to get to Africa” or just want to preach in a pulpit: your Africa is right next door. It’s that family down the road you’ve been ignoring because they’re loud, sweaty and dirty. Your pulpit is your dining table and they are hungry for your life-giving words. It’s the snot-nosed babies in the nursery you keep on Sundays so the desperate mothers can hear life-giving words.

    To the mommas and childcare volunteers and pastors who are tired and sometimes resentful about the load you carry: God has given you a Samuel. You have no idea what he will be someday. Love him, cherish him in all his smelly, non-stop loudness and wall-climbing. And as you get those fleeting opportunities, whisper into his little ears. You might be tired and ready to quit, but yours is the voice that will guide him into his purpose. He is your ministry.


    image credit: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2011-11-03-marathonboy01.jpg



    8 thoughts on “The Danger of Romanticizing “the Ministry”

    1. Boy: Noun; A noise, with dirt on it.

      My dear friend, thank you, from the very depths of my heart, for those hours you spend herding tornadoes. I’m the proud owner of one of these amazing gifts, and you’re spot on. They never stop. Their bodies, their mouths, are always in motion. Everything’s funny, but bodily functions are the funniest. They’re smart, irreverent, wise, and insane, just like girls. Emotional drama? Oh, Sister, we’ve got it. I think my son is more of a drama queen than his sister was. Hormones, tears, rages, all melting into sweet moments of intense pride when he does something kind on the spur of the moment, without a second thought.

      We are so blessed, all of us Mamas, and you, dear friend, are one of the blessings, every time you engage in ministry and embrace your little Samuels.


      1. Faith says:

        Thank you, Mary. I’m making me cry this morning! I just want to “get it”, finally.

    2. Cynthia says:

      YES! And Yes again! We do mission trips and love it, but this is the nuts and bolts of the Good News. It’s about people and we are surrounded by people everyday of our lives. Thank you, Faith, for this amazing reminder of the important things in life. The really important thing.

      1. Faith says:

        Cynthia, I have watched you seamlessly go from one ministry to the next: raising your four amazing children, feeding your neighbors and then bringing clean water to the world. It’s all beautiful!

    3. Meg says:

      My dear friend,
      As a mother to two boys, I have thanked God every day for 22 years for giving me boys. I look at so many of my friends who are moms to girls and watch them in awe. I know that there is no way I could handle the make-up, drama, hormones, and everything “girly”. So, my dear friend, you are amazing!

      1. Faith says:

        Ha! It’s a good thing God doesn’t give us what we think we want, huh Meg? He knows what we’re cut out for! 🙂

    4. a friend says:

      Yes, Faith, you’re right about the “romance” of ministry. That’s the disappointment I had about the movie, Do You Believe. It was too unrealistic. Who wouldn’t want to take in a beautiful homeless movie-star model with an angel daughter who does ballet in your hall? And the thieves who get converted on the spot!

      Reality check: we’ve rented (homes) to guys fresh out of jail who seemed so humble, broken, and precious. Only to see them revert again and again to their old lifestyles. The most honest and trustworthy one ended up costing us thousands of dollars in lost rent and more in court expenses to get him out. Yet I’m still in touch with him, trying to get him back on track spiritually.

      But others turn out okay–after similar trials. One, after years of frustration and watching him make horrible, sinful, costly decisions (after the most dramatic conversion in jail I’d ever witnessed) ended up marrying a devout Christian girl who finally got him off pot, straightened out his finances, and got him into one of the very best church in Orlando (Riverside Church) where he is now the pastor’s bodyguard and head usher!

      Another ex-con put us through three years of daily stress with his alcoholism until we thought our own freedom was forever lost to caring for him, like a child. At the point I had resigned to this lifetime cross, he suddenly married a neighbor woman (his eighth marriage) in spite of our warning her, and moved into her home. And now he’s completely free of alcohol, in church regularly with his wife, and thanks us in tears every time he sees us.

      So maybe, in reality, it is romantic, considering the cost of the ointment a woman (Mary) lavished on Jesus a few days before His crucifixion, and how Judas and the disciples missed the whole point. And Jesus said her example would be a memorial wherever the Gospel is preached. So at the root of ministry is not what it “cost” us in terms of our inconvenience and loss, but its value, measured by eternity’s standards.

    5. a friend says:

      I hear you have two awesome brothers who rarely gave your parents a moment’s trouble. They must that rare exception, and you must have been the best big sister any two brothers could have.

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