Friday, February 26, 2010

Service Contract

Let me start by saying, please disagree with anything I'm about to say, or tell me if you have some new insight. I'm begging to be wrong.

I attend a missional church, a group of Jesus-lovers who want to make an impact on their immediate community by acts of love and service. It is a right and honorable thing, and is rooted deeply in scripture.

Our church leaders were wrought with real conviction to start this church, and their heart is for the poor, the downcast, the neglected, the widow, the orphan, the 'least of these'. And I am in total agreement. Yes, yes, yes.

Everyone in my small group (a subset of our church) , then, has decided to volunteer for an organization that meets the needs of individuals and families who are struggling with terminal cancer or AIDS, and who don't have a support community in place already. My husband and I went through a weekend training, with videos that showed real people giving testimony to the vital help and friendship their caring volunteer partner provided when they had no one else to turn to. Examples of help included taking the person to and from doctor appointments, providing home cooked meals, and occasionally, some light housework. The general goal is to lighten the burden of someone in desperate need.

Why, then, has my old crappy minivan been sputtering to a halt between sculpted lion heads to a nearly-million dollar property to go clean someone's bathrooms and dust their wine glasses? How did helping those in need turn into being 'the help'? I don't know how I got here, dusting chandeliers and praying to God I won't break something that I'll have to mortgage my house to replace. And the terminally ill patient and family? Nowhere to be found. No real connection* has been made in nearly four months. Even if what I was doing felt meaningless in the face of what the family was struggling through, I felt I needed to at least get a "thank you" every now and then to know that it mattered to them, that it was helping in some way.

So, I went through all the thoughts I could think: I know that this family had to go through the same approval process as everyone else, and they were in fact approved by the organization. I know that it is probably easing their minds to have a clean house. I mulled over 1 Peter 4:9, "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." And Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without complaining or arguing." So I pressed on, but inside I continued to grumble in my spirit. I got angry, frustrated, and even a little indignant.

So I went to the scriptures to justify my irritation, give validity to my cause, like an idiot.

I read in Luke 17, about when Jesus healed the ten lepers. Only one came back to thank him, and Jesus says, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" I identified myself with Jesus, performing great acts for thankless return. But then I got puffed up. Awesome, what else you got, God? And I started to read the rest of the chapter. Well, right before the ten lepers, Jesus just finished telling a quick story about servitude. Wah, wah. My bubble deflated. "So you also," Jesus says in v10, "When you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" Oh, right. Yeah. I'm NOT Jesus healing lepers, here. I am... the servant, doing what Jesus asked me to do. Serve.

So, while I may have opened a can of worms last night in my small group by exposing my true feelings on the matter (and finding that many felt the same), I continue to seek a servant's heart. I know that service isn't about me and my fulfillment. But I also don't want to do trivial pseudo-service so I can 'check the box' in my spiritual walk. And I definitely don't want to do something that I'm not passionate about. It just doesn't make sense to.

I'm seeking the Lord. Praying for guidance. I want to do what He wants me to do. Something I can commit to in my heart. Something more than, as George Patterson put it recently, "trying to shove the camel through the eye of the needle."

In the meantime I'll wear my rubber cleaning gloves and press on. (I've committed to serve in this organization for one year.) And I'll pray. A lot.

*Afterthought: I've had many people start to question the organization, thinking I had never met the client. I guess I should clarify 'no real connection'. I have met and spoken with both the client and spouse. They're legit. It just isn't the mutually enriching relationship that the training videos exemplified. Please look for my comments below for more info.


  1. Wow, I would be in the same place if that's where I were going to 'help the needy.' I don't know if this really relates, but I told my husband it is very difficult to find any sympathy for someone who complains about how unfair the IRS is to them when they own a house more expensive than mine, make more money than I do, and OWN A PLANE. (Yeah, I'm referring to the criminal who crashed the plane in Austin, so of course, with that act committed, he does not even get a second look from me.)

    But the point is that his 'stuff' is nicer than my stuff. Wow, do I feel like Madame Blueberry here. I wonder if the people who are in these expensive homes with the nice crystal might be self-insured, and as a result, they have no health insurance benefits to cover some of those expenses? Or are excluded for pre-existing conditions, or have exhausted their lifetime benefits? So maybe they have the nice house, but now they have a huge mortgage on it to pay for the treatments? And because of their assets, they might not qualify for typical aid programs available to those who truly have less?

    Perhaps what they are getting from you is support that their families are not giving them. Many of us have family members who won't hesitate to ask someone to 'loan' them $300 for their car payment that month, with full knowledge it will never be paid back, but then that better-off family member can't even get someone to help them out now that their condition has made it hard for them to drive themselves to the store, simply because of the perception that they are wealthier and therefore should be able to provide for themselves. That's why money should rarely be lent to family, always given, if at all.

    I do find it interesting though that you note there is no terminally ill patient in these homes. Have you reported back to the organization that you do not see evidence of a terminally ill person as expected? Fraud is a big deal, and if this organization is receiving ANY public funding, these 'clients' can be charged with defrauding public funds. Even from a volunteer staff.

    I think I would go to the organization, and find out what their reaction is to the idea that these families do not seem to meet the criteria of being ill. Ignore income appearances. If the organization does not seem concerned that their clients may not be honest, then I would have no guilt in breaking a commitment to a group that overlooks possible deception. If they say that they are not allowed to ask for physical evidence of the illness (as in paperwork verifying a diagnosis), then I would want no part of them. Or then I would say, "Fine, I have fibromyalgia. Send me my cleaning lady next week."

    While we are instructed to be servants, we are also warned of the wolf in sheep's clothing, with the intent of deception, and I would not want to be linked to a fraudulent charity when it is brought down by the IRS.

  2. Thanks for all your thoughts.

    I guess I should clarify 'no real connection'. I have met and spoken with both the client and spouse. They're legit. But when I go to drop off food, they've left a cooler out to receive it -- no real connection. Often there is no one there when we go to clean, or do yard work. This isn't their fault. There is treatment, out of state procedures, and a generally busy life. And like I said -- they were approved by the org.

    I have no knowledge of their true financial situation. And frankly, it doesn't really matter. Because, like I said, if I felt like what we were doing made a difference, or was helpful, this might not even be an issue. (Well, I say that. But I'm not sure I entirely mean it.)

    I think that this situation is about two things: my unmet expectations, which is my own fault; and about trying to find meaningful, sustainable service that is helpful, suited to my gifts, and gives God all the glory. And this ain't it. So I'm going to fulfill my obligations, pray, and start to reach out elsewhere.

  3. read this yesterday, had a couple reactions, but decided I better sit on it before I comment. So here are my thoughts:

    1) expand your idea of poverty, poor, and broken...

    2) what's the ole' saying, "assumption is the devil's tool..."

    3) maybe this isn't about them, maybe in God's sovereignty, he realized what serving people like this would bring out in you, so he intentionally put you there to show more of you to you...I have a rule for me, when something I do brings out a bad attitude in me, there is only ONE solution...keep doing it.

    4) though there has been no real relationship started yet, you all have committed a year to them, what if it takes till august, what if in the middle of december salvation is given to them...being that 1 year is nothing more than a blip on the radar of time, the 'what if' would be enough to keep me there...

    5) What is God wanting to teach Susana that goes beyond her paradigm, ideas, and box?

    6) while at one angle I agree that service isn't about you, on another angle, maybe it is about you, in the area of sanctification.

    Why do I say all this so confidently? BECAUSE you have NO idea how often I feel and have felt like this in the last 18 months!

    You said, "I don't want to do trivial pseudo-service so I can 'check the box' in my spiritual walk" I can more than have no idea how often I have felt like that in the last 18 months and still do

    You said, "I definitely don't want to do something that I'm not passionate about." I beyond get it has been my push from the beginning...NOT projects, but what does that look like? What are you passionate about? My point is that there are things other people in our church are passionate about, that make me feel exactly how this email portrays the way you feel. Maybe, God is saying, I'm going to get you to what you want to commit to, but I'm doing something else in you right now. I'm trying to figure out what this looks like for me...I'm not sure it is possible and feel sometimes I'm in a cul-de-sac of projects.

    As far as the "mutually enriching relationships" give that time...a lot of time

    I know you know all of this, NONE of this was brand new information, & I think I said so much, because I can more than relate and empathize with you in this...and have realized that for me, when I am in these situations, it's not about the's about what God is doing in me...

    Sorry, I'm not trying to preach nor convince you, I'm just telling you my perspective, and you will do with it what you will...I know you seek God, and I know you listen to Him, but I felt I needed to throw in my 2 cents...

    thank you for your honesty and transparency. On another level, due to empathizing so much in this area, I have started playing around with the idea of starting some groups around this idea of passion. Anyway, that may be in the distant future, but on a personal level, I need this: surrounded by like minded people in the area of justice...Heck, Sarah and I have started a conversation in our home, that is as frustrating as it is good for this kind of stuff...wait, I've started on another subject, one probably better for private conversation...

  4. Well, I guess I asked for it.

    Thanks for the reminders. I know that God works it all out, when we're willing to listen to him. I don't want to stand in the way of what he might have planned -- for the family, or for working junk out in me.

    Still, I cannot deny that there is this other part of the conversation that I think was healthy for this particular group to have. Stuff that needed to get aired out. It was appropriate at this point to say, "What are we doing? Why?" It was the right time to check in, get a pulse on what's working, and then move forward. I just have a 'special knack' for starting those conversations...

    This whole deal has caused some friction -- which, to me, is almost always a good thing. I've had hours of turmoil in my spirit over it. (Like, I'm ready to puke my guts out over the issue.) And I've also had some really hard conversations. But this kind of friction causes us to look at ourselves deeper, struggle with God more, and really face what's going on, for better or for worse. I have no choice now but to let God work out my imperfections. I've got em, no doubt. And I'm seeking God in what to do next. In the meantime, I'm serving. Wholeheartedly, because God requires nothing less. And I'm trying not to get in the way of what God could be doing through me -- if I'd only empty myself out.

    Thanks again for putting your time and thought into this, too. And about the passion/justice/letsgetmoving stuff, let's chat.