Hope Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Builds on the Truth

toe ringTen minutes into my home Bible study, Judith gasped.

I stopped reading Romans 12 and asked, “Any questions or concerns?”

To her credit, Judith must have decided not to confront me in front of the entire group. “No,” she said. “Nothing right now.”

After I finished teaching, Judith hung back so I said goodnight to the rest of the group and sat down with Judith.

“What’s the problem?” I asked. “You seemed concerned about something.”

“I’m just wondering,” she said, “I don’t understand…but…you’re teaching this Bible study and you’re wearing a toe ring.”

I peeked down at my right foot where the second toe did indeed sport a silver toe ring. “Yep,” I said. “I really like my toe ring. I bought it at that eclectic boutique downtown.”

“But a toe ring…isn’t that…sinful? My church says women should only wear wedding rings and nothing else. Our beauty is supposed to come from a pure heart – not from a bunch of jewelry – an outward show…especially something as liberal as a toe ring. It’s almost like something hippies wear.”

I knew Judith attended a church where Legalism 101 was the consistent textbook, but I didn’t realize how deeply spiritual abuse had affected her life.

She shared with me how afraid she was that someone would discover she colored her hair. Her entire spiritual focus was based on how “good” she had to be and how many rules she had to obey.


I reminded her of Jeremiah 31:3. “God says he loves us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t mention any rules we have to obey to earn his love. It’s just there, available for us because of who he is.


“God loves you, Judith, no matter what you do and no matter what you wear. He wants you to love him back – not live in fear that you might make a terrible mistake someday and ruin everything. His love for you is eternal – forever and ever.”

Over the next few weeks, I helped Judith find Bible verses about the love of God. The Bible became more of a romance anthology rather than a judgmental tome. We looked at the life of Mary Magdalene, a leading disciple of Jesus. Nowhere did scripture condemn her or even mention anything she wore.

Even though she had been a prostitute, Mary was the one who first saw the living Christ after his resurrection. She was given the task of telling the rest of the disciples that Jesus was alive. And she didn’t have to dress a certain way to spread the good news.

Throughout the next months, Judith and I met often to talk about God’s love. She began to smile more freely and even giggled a few times. The burden of carrying all that legalism in her heart lifted, and she shared her freedom with the other ladies in the group.

Then one night, she came to Bible study with a radiant grin. “Guess what I did,” she said.

She held out her right foot, and I started laughing. Shining on the middle digit was a gold toe ring. We danced together in a happy hug.

Two years later, I received the news that Judith’s son had committed suicide. When I called her, she was, of course, heartbroken. But in between sobs she said, “I still believe God loves me and somehow – he’ll help me make it through this grief.”

I was so grateful Judith had made it past the obstacles of spiritual abuse via legalism. Without her new freedom, she would have blamed herself for her son’s death and lived with the lie that God had punished her for something she had done wrong.

Judith and her husband moved away, but we occasionally called or wrote letters. When I saw her again – years later – she wore the prominent wrinkles of a woman who has been through the worst grief yet the glow of freedom was still obvious. She had survived to find acceptance and joy on the other side of the pain.

“I’m okay,” she said, as I stroked her cheek. “It’s been hard, but I’m okay.”

Then she lifted her leg so I could see her foot. The gold toe ring still shone from the middle digit, a visual reminder that hope conquers even the most stubborn of lies.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh