By Linden Whitt —
It was Good Friday, slumped down in a pew, I was in church. I had to say it to myself a few times to believe it, “I’m in church and I’m not doing anything? I’m in church, I’m not doing anything!” The mere fact I was there task free rocked me to my core. “I can learn to be again,” I thought. Sit in this holy space just being, sit breathing in and out, letting deep, holy, things wash over my over worked perspective. Just as the body recognizes physical thirst long after it is already dehydrated, here I sat wanting in consistent spiritual connection. Now apparent by my current state in this pew.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to serve! It’s literally woven into the fabric of my personality, rooted in my spirituality and faith. I’ve been an active participant since as far back as I can remember. Debuting in a Christmas pageant when I was little as a rosy cheeked angel with crazy dark hair and an aluminum foil halo rigged above my head. I’ve grown, developed, and served in different types of churches all over the world. Loving, (mostly) every moment but more or less disconnected from my true self at times. I wore my hustle for the kingdom like a badge of honor, letting it bleed me dry from the inside out. Effects stacking up like a precarious game of Jenga. Until I couldn’t physically, spiritually, or mentally place another block! My desperation leading me straight to the bottom block, pulling it swiftly from its place.
Slowly surveying the wreckage, I now faced the process of evaluating the necessity of every single, “service block” I’d stacked. How had I kept functioning over the years? Isn’t it true, it can be so easy to bend over backward with lovely tender hearts aimed for service. Participating in many great things along the way. However, discerning how to exercise our extraordinary giftings can be more of a challenge. There are so many good things we can do but do they stem directly from our relationship with Jesus? Or out of our own desires to collect accolades through our good works? Below are a few thoughts on my journey of breaking free from the hustle to cultivate true relationship with Jesus, igniting the sustaining grace needed to serve.
Learning to Be
A few months ago, I was driving around my city with a friend. Suddenly she laughed and exclaimed, “Why are you pressing your left foot into the floor there’s nothing there?” She had recognized the reflex I still employed from pressing my left foot into a clutch. Even though my car was now an automatic. In the same way this reflex was created and learned over time through habit and practice for a good thing, learning to drive. We also develop habits around serving. Creating reflexes that impact us moving forward. It was important for me to recognize these habits and the reflexes they created, to identify what was really going on below the surface.
In my life the reflex of saying, yes to things often signaled a welcomed ability to hide. Yes, you see me over here doing these things but it permitted people to only get so close to me. Allowing me the ability to stay wrapped up in my cozy cocoon. This reminds me of Jesus teaching Mary and Martha the importance of spending time with Him over doing things. Just like Martha we say, “Yes,” to every opportunity to serve and do and go, thinking that yes determines our worth and purpose. In the end, we lose out on relationship because Jesus actually told us not to do that. That it isn’t what He wants, He wants us completely. Not distraught and frantic, over worked, tasks check off lists, projects completed, perfect us! He wants us just as we are. To spend time with us satisfying our needs, longings, and desires. He wants to pour identity into us, setting us on the right path refreshed and renewed through our relationship with Him.
“Are you ready?” On Sunday mornings, I ask this question of the kids in Sunday school before they enter the room. As adults if we were asked this question in church, we’d most likely toss out a standard, “Yes.” When the truth is we couldn’t be more distracted. Even our churches are filled with noise, messages, people, and we walk into them in the middle of our real-life moments. Is there space to just listen in this holy place? To sort through things in our imperfect state, smile optional.
When I rebuilt my life, it wasn’t in a building to rehearsed songs. Rather through seeking wise counsel, spending time with friends and family, laughing, crying, healing, and most of all allowing Jesus to renew my spirit. When I focused first on allowing myself to be in the stillness of His presence. In the quiet places where identity is formed in whispers and the only one talking is Him. Can we see where we’ve lost discernment along the way? The ability to listen to God, resting in the right thing, the very last thing He’s spoken.
Our fast-paced culture of going and doing means that by the time we get to church we struggle to stop and just be in His presence, let alone be with others. Our intentions to care about people can then get lost in the doing, going, event-driven church. Which mirrors our culture so well. Introducing slow rhythms of connectivity can then feel forced and out of place without the practice of intentionally being around others. In the same way Jesus meets us where we are, right in our mess. We need to engage in this practice with others bringing our honest selves into the picture. Opening ourselves up to one another can also create space for our giftings, skills, and strengths to be affirmed. When we connect authentically we can engage in service together and drop the one woman/man show. Truly building authentic relationships and opportunities for impactful service.