‘My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. It has been important to remember that my motivation for ministry is the call to follow Jesus. Jesus calls us into relationship with him and with others. Working in health care among the poor has been an important part of that call because Jesus modeled a life of compassion that included having relationships with those on the margins of society. In showing compassion to those in need we meet Jesus. (Matthew 25:40)
“These things I remember,...how I Went with the throng, and led them in procession...” Following Jesus is not simply a matter of serving others. Jesus called his disciples to become a community of faith. He also calls us to be part of a loving, accepting community of believers. In this community we practice the “one-anothers.” We practice “speaking the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15); “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2); “love one another deeply from the heart.” (I Peter 1:22); “encourage one another and build up each other, (I Thessalonians 5:11); “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15); “putting away falsehood, let all of us all speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25); and “Confess your sins to one another.” (James 5:16). Being part of a community means sharing truth and grace with one another for the purpose of spiritual growth.
But what if a community like this is not available?
obstacles of culture and language which prevent us from getting deeper with the local church. I have been involved in ministries in which there was a in some cross-cultural ministries there are small group, but the focus was how to work for justice. There was no real chance to be honest with one another or listen to personal needs. I now see that having at least one relationship with a trusting friend in whom I can be real and share my heart is essential for my life and longevity in ministry.
If I only focus on serving others and “doing ministry” I will neglect the fact that I need nurturing as part of following Jesus. IfI do not have a nurturing community of faith where I can give and receive real feedback in love, my ministry itself is at risk. I can become cynical and burned-out. I can start blaming those in need as ungrateful. I can begin to see myself as indispensable. I can develop a “martyr” role in which the image of being overworked and self-sacrificial secretly feeds my pride. I can create dependency in others because of my “need to be needed.” The honesty and grace of a small group can not only help me avoid damaging pitfalls of ministry, but can help my own personal character growth.
“My tears have been my food day and night...” Grieving is a tool God has given us to deal with the pain and suffering of life. What do you do when reality seems too overwhelming? From the big issues of injustice to the daily pressures of family life, I have found the process of grieving a way of dealing honestly with painful realities.
I felt overwhelmed while living in rural El Salvador during the civil war there. Even though I learned much about faith and generosity from our Salvadoran brothers and sisters, the pervasive poverty, hunger, and brutality of war left me with an ongoing sense of despair. Even years after returning to the U.S., I struggled with feelings of anger and depression. How could any Christian enjoy life when our brothers and sisters live in such misery? The temptation was either to deny the reality and isolate myself from suffering, or to face the injustice and deny that God had anything to do with it. Learning to grieve has helped me deal with that tension.
Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend write about the importance of grieving in their book, How People Grow. Even though they describe the use of grieving in the context of personal relationships, I have found the process helpful for dealing with painful realities that Come from ministry with those in need. Cloud and Townsend describe grief as “God’s cure for what isn’t right.” It is God’s way of dealing with the bad stuff of life. Suffering usually just happens to us; grief is the only type of suffering that we enter into voluntarily. Yet it is through the suffering of grief that healing occurs.
The stages of grief are familiar to health professionals in dealing with death and dying: 1) Loss/Reality; 2) Protest; 3) Despair/Depression; 4) Sadness/letting go; 5) Resolution and Resurrection. Applying this process to despair over injustice helped me to identify with Jesus’ grieving over the reality of sin and its consequences. It helped me to move from being stuck in anger over injustice to being freed emotionally to invest myself in the work God had for me in the present.
When our seven-year-old adopted son started displaying disturbing behavior related to attachment disorder, we were tempted to blame him for the upset in family life. The outbursts left us exhausted and scared. I felt stuck in anger at why this was happening to us. It was only after grieving the loss of my expectations for family life that I was emotionally freed to get on with the work of getting help for our son. Through counseling we were able to look at our own issues and make some changes that have lead to healing and growth. Grieving the loss of my ideal for the family was the first step in the process.
In order to grieve we need love and structure; we need the time and space for grieving. Cloud and Townsend state: “This is why I tell people that God put tear ducts in our eyes. Grief is a relational experience and our pain has to be seen eye-to-eye with another person...Then we know that we are not alone and that our tears are seen and heard.” Jesus grieved over Jerusalem, at Lazarus’ tomb, and in the garden before he died. It is a gift given to us in order to do God’s work in the world.
“Deep calls to deep ...all your waves and your billows have gone over me.” Remembering who I am before God, remembering that I am utterly needy, reminds me of my need for humility. As educated professionals we are trained to be leaders who take charge and exude self-confidence. We know somuch and have so much to give that we often may not listen to others. We don’t expect to learn from those we serve because we have so much to teach.
There is also the temptation of self-righteousness, of being “proud to be humble.” It is another form of the martyrdom complex based on pride. I can be like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who tells God how great he is in contrast to the sinner next to him. Jesus calls us to be continually aware of our own spiritual poverty. Sometimes it is not easy to admit neediness. But unless we can take that stance, we are unable to receive the gifts God has for us. The stance of neediness allows us to receive from others, to listen to those we think we should otherwise be directing. It allows us to grow. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
The psalm repeats. and ends with the refrain: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” What has given me hope in the hard times is remembering I can only live out his call to serve in the context of a loving, supportive community, that I need nurturing to grow and serve. I have learned that the resources of grieving and humility are necessary to avoid the pitfalls of despair and pride. I can say with the psalmist: “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life."
Irene Schomus Morrow is a nurse practitioner who worked in New Hebron, MS 1980-1985. She served on CCHF’s first Board of Directors. She and her husband David worked in El Salvador and in Texas with Salvadoran refugees from 1986-1994. She has worked in migrant health centers in Texas and in Washington state. Presently she lives with her husband and three sons and works as a diabetes educator in Wenatchee, WA. She can be contacted at morrow [at] te1evar [dot] com.
The Bible, The New Revised Standard Version
Cloud, Henry; Townsend, John; How People Grow, Zondervan, 2001.
Working in ministry, trying to live simply in a world of materialism, and raising kids to follow Jesus can bring us face to face with conflict, stress and despair. In Psalm 42, the psalmist cries out to God in despair,and sadness: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” But then the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in the past and responds with, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” This psalm itself has been a comfort to me during difficult times. But even more, the model of remembering the truths of the past has provided a framework for me to work through difficulties.