It’s been a long time – 7 years – since full time work for me, in the ‘not paid ministry’ sense of FT work. There was DJ’s while at Uni, and the absolutely full MTS, but otherwise it has been a while. And the distinction exists, whether or not it should.
Now I am plunged back in for a couple of weeks only, and I feel it. Good and bad. The regular hours, like clockwork. They are difficult in their monotony, but comforting in their routine. I loathe the early mornings, love the evenings – everything is a trade-off. The job is a sweet blessing, a gift-from-God money-earner for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Picking, sorting, wrapping, sending presents – this little elf is happy. And after a day in the warehouse, thousands of steps, up and down ladders, I feel like I’ve earned it. Whatever my earnings are. I think about the money which will be such a gift – for car and college – and it feels like mine.
I can show you the dirt on my knees. Explain what it feels like to wake at 4am every morning with a dead arm, too much reach and grab off the shelves. I can instagram pictures of me covered in glitter after pricing 600 kids toys, and eating lunch in the gutter because the park is too far away. There is physical proof on me of this work. And other proof besides – orders sent, lists checked.
If I think about giving some of this new money away, it feels different. It feels like mine. It is hard to contemplate relinquishing it, even to someone I love. Someone figurative for these purposes, representing any number of real someones who will sip lattes and read the bible while I climb that ladder. Who sleep soundly at 4am when the fruit of my day wakes me up.
And the thing is, in MTS, in any paid ministry, there will probably be days like that. Blissful mornings of sitting in the sunlight with a smiling girl who is excited to read Ezra with you. Who you will think of always from that day, when you read of the festival of booths, of the rebuilt temple. Of the elders tears as they remembered. And on those mornings you will be thankful – you will wonder how you ever got so lucky. Blessed.
But, as in life, those days are not the full story.
And this precious Christmas season, as we bolt headlong toward carols and mince pies, I am reminded. All around me, there is brokenness. At churches I once went and still love, there is pain, such great pain. Talk of healing, but slow roads and hard paths. Here, where I go and love, there is more of the same. Dashed hopes, difficult futures, so many broken shards of pottery. More cracks than jar. So many I love are worn out and weary. These sheep of His may be gathered and secure, but they are still harassed and helpless. We are all still so broken and so in need of our Saviour.
Sometimes when we sit in college lectures, it is easy to time-out for a minute and forget. One of my favourite light reliefs is reading Adrian Plass, in which the main character drifts off into fantasies of himself converting the faceless masses the first time he opens his mouth, and all before dinner. But the reality is far different. Every one has a face. A story. Hopes buried deep. Each person a complicated mix who cannot be lumped into an imaginary crowd. And this is what ministry is – to and for and by every one involved. It is complicated, because people are. Often it is broken, just like those who do it. But, sweet Saviour, there is so much precious beauty, enough in one person to make everything worth it.
And I am acutely aware that this is just one tiny perspective – mine. It isn’t meant to be a manifesto or a comprehensive assessment taking everything into account. It isn’t a guilt trip or a plea or a smug soliloquy. It’s just me, thinking a bit. I only know how to live my life, can only reflect on these days God has so kindly let me live. And I do so on the other side of them for once, as I see perhaps what my life can look like sometimes, all instagrammed beach snaps and filtered study notes.
Because, ultimately, don’t we all wake at night – be it with numb limb or aching heart? Don’t we all want to be able to earn enough for that end of day satisfaction? And as so much of my last few years has relied on others, I realise that I haven’t earned a cent. I am so profoundly thankful, and so desperately proud and awkward about it. And that is also how I come to Jesus, so often.
“Can’t I give you this Lord? Just this little part?”.
“What do you mean I can’t do ANYTHING to help myself?”
These lessons aren’t the same for everyone, but this one punches me in my wind-filled sails. I, so self-righteously proud, need to be humbled into the dust. And part of it is this, never feeling like I have earned my keep.
But it is a precious reminder that where it actually matters immensely, I never could. Where it counts, Jesus paid it all. Every cent. Every drop. All to him I owe. And working out what that means will be different for everyone. But for me? I need to remember this as I close my fist around my wallet. As I sip lattes in the sunlight, or lie awake, wondering. When someone else climbs a ladder, I am thankful. When it is my turn to climb, may I be thankful still. Open hands. In every season, all to him I owe.
“I hear the Saviour say, thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness watch and pray. Find in me thine all in all”.