Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA
Her: “So what do you do for a living?”
Me: “Oh. I’m a freelance writer.”
Her, crease darkening her brow as she wonders, “Is this a clever way of saying ‘virtually unemployed’?” : “Okay… So what does that look like?”
Now. Compare this scenario to about six months ago.
Her: “So what do you do for a living?”
Me: “Oh. I’m homeschooling my kids because we’re in Africa. On the side I teach some refugees.”
Her, a glow widening her smile: “Wow! That sounds amazing!”
One of these, you see, is decidedly sexier than the other—even with the “homeschooling” part thrown in.
I get it. Most of us have a hierarchy of Job Coolness Factor. I’ve got one, too.
But as much as I joke about it—there’s an identity factor here, too. I’ve dealt with some legitimate fears since returning to the US. It’s tempting to think maybe God got this all wrong. Or maybe I did, electing my own “demotion” from serving as a missionary in Africa. When all this transpired, I admit uttering to another writer, of all people: “I feel like here I am, sharing the Gospel, and God’s handing me a dented paintbox to work with. What am I supposed to do with this?”
(Did you feel it? That flicker of doubt?)
At one point, I figured out a metaphor for what I was wrestling with. It was as if, in Africa, I had been a sous chef, working alongside Him through major banquets and sweaty evenings, finishing with a high five. On the side, I created some tasty pastries. But one day, He tells me, “You’re my new pastry chef. You’ll be working over there.” From where I am now, I can still smell the main course He’s cooking up as I muscle through my new job, rolling out dough and throwing away a few failed dishes.
Yet when I step back, the real message in that metaphor is the alienation I felt; the change in partnership I sensed in my work. Yes, God and I still create together. But I still fight against that feeling of being “benched.” Is this really where you wanted me? I’m tempted to justify where He’s put me with a certain level of achievement—to make it feel significant and meaningful, doggone it.
See, I tend to link my own sense of my work’s significance with my value. It’s hard not to in a culture where we value effectiveness. And that’s how we start building this imaginary hierarchy of service to God. This tendency is linked to three lies we tend to believe as humans, which Henri Nouwen identifies:
- “I am what I do.”
- “I am what I have.”
- “I am what others think of me.”
Each, unfortunately, fly in the face of the verdict Jesus has won for us.
I’m learning that sometimes, my disdain for the commonplace boils down to good ol’ fashioned pride. I’m not sure God shares my American value of usefulness or value or greatness in the same way. Sometimes, He says it’s good to just wash feet.
Sometimes, my idea of “greatness” is simply . . . off.
Perhaps my value should simply lie in being His daughter, rather than my contribution (anybody else hear Martha and Mary tones in there?). The point is, I’m His. I am not what I do. Or who others say I am. Or what I have. So I don’t have to grasp for a higher place in the hierarchy of “Cool Jobs”.
So, the passage I’ve drilled down through lately is this one:
. . . if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body… If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? (1 Corinthians 12:16, 17, 19, ESV)
I thought, “If the whole Body were a sous chef, where would the pastry chef be?” Because this passage isn’t just about gifts. It’s about unique functions in a collective whole. About God’s holy idea of usefulness.
Martin Luther King once said,
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
In my transition, I’m unhitching my identity, still, from my pet lies about what makes me valuable—even when those lies touch on what I do for the Kingdom of God. Or who other people think I am; to do whatever I do for His renown (see Colossians 3:23). I’m learning daily the beauty of Mary’s “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Maturity in the Body of Christ, wherever I am around the world, is just another chance to wash more feet. So here I am, saddling up for a little less sexiness for the Kingdom of God—and hopefully, a little more quiet, trusting faithfulness.