This week, the Graffiti Summer Study and Do chapter is all about being different.
After reading personal stories and then observing the birth and early life of Moses (see Alene’s post here for more on this), including the tension he felt between the conflicting cultures in which he was raised, we’re led to acknowledge our God-given differences and encouraged to step out and serve someone different than ourselves.
DO Assignment: Buy a $5 gift card to a fast food restaurant and give it to someone in need.
I didn’t think I really minded different. And yet, I knew this assignment was coming, and truthfully, I dreaded it.
It’s not like the assignment itself is that hard. It’s just being interested enough in someone in need to give them a gift card, so they can have a meal. A time commitment on my part of maybe 5 minutes. But I just hated the idea of it. It seemed beyond uncomfortable.
I may have even considered throwing in the towel and being done with this study.
Not even kidding. This was hard!
And the more I tried to accomplish the task at hand, the more I wanted to quit because it just. wasn’t. working.
But before I get to that, let me back up for a minute.
I struggled with this assignment and got really hung-up on it mentally.
To begin with, ministry to the homeless just hasn’t ever really been my thing. It’s way outside of my comfort zone. And something I’ve only ever had minimal experience with.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help but think that I could do anything for 5 minutes. In the scheme of things, this assignment didn’t really require all that much of me. So although there was an element of fear and discomfort, I could certainly force myself to step over that for this one time, one moment.
But then I hated myself for rationalizing it that way. Were my motives really that far off? As if all I was doing just was getting through the assignment … something I had to do, so I could check it off the list, write about it, and move on?
And then beyond all that (or quite possibly because of all that), I spent a lot of time considering the value in doing this assignment. I “needed” to know the point. Because how was it helping anyone to just do something for the sake of doing it?
While I don’t discount the value in simply doing something Kingdom-minded out of obedience that happens to be completely uncomfortable, I tend towards serving in relationship-based ministries. I hate the idea of “hit-and-run” ministry, so often, if I can’t see myself in it for the long-term (or at least know someone else is in it long-term), I choose not to even start. Practically expressed, this means that typically either I establish and foster a relationship with someone myself or I partner with a ministry that already has a longer-standing relationship with a certain individual or community.
But I’m already serving in some of those ministries.
So not only is this assignment “different” because of the people I’m asked to reach, it’s also different because of the very type of ministry.
But so what? Isn’t that the whole point of this Graffiti Summer challenge? To DO something DIFFERENT? Following Christ’s example? Meeting a need?
And then conviction sort of hit me like a ton of bricks: although long-term, relationship-based ministries are incredibly valuable, the Lord doesn’t need them to move in our midst.
Sometimes reflecting Jesus to someone simply means stepping out in obedience (whether it’s comfortable or not) into one person’s life for one brief moment to bless him with no strings attached, no expectations, and no agenda. For either of us.
And the value in that? That particular someone gets a meal that day and gets to hear that Jesus loves him and sees him.
And really, how is that not enough?
Jesus did that. He walked and served outside of His own small community. He fed people. He healed people. He met their immediate physical need, He spoke His eternal message to them, and then He moved on.
So, with that background in mind, I set-out to actually DO the assignment.
Hardest. Thing. Ever.
I’ve been trying for a week now to give a gift card to someone in need.
In all honesty, I haven’t driven that far off of my usual routes (which already take me back and forth across town several times a week), but there are a handful of people that stand on the same street corners that I pass on a semi-regular basis, and since I so often just drive past and ignore them, I thought this would be a great opportunity to actually take the time to notice at least one of them. To be intentional about stopping and blessing them with a meal.
But every time I approached the intersections in question, something happened to prevent me from giving.
One of the men left his corner for an apparent break, and by the time he came back, the light had changed and I was already running late, and in rush hour traffic, I knew I didn’t have time to make the loop back around. And even though he’s frequently on that corner, I haven’t seen him there since then.
At another corner, a different man left in the 7ish minutes it took me to go through the McDonald’s drive-thru to purchase the gift card. Since I had seen another man a few intersections up, I headed that way with my now second $10 gift card in hand, and he was gone too.
I’ve been armed with gift cards and kept my eyes open all week. And no one.
It should NOT be this hard to find someone who needs a meal!
So why WAS it so hard?
As difficult as it is to admit, maybe it’s because I tried too hard and not hard enough all at the same time.
Too hard because I was attempting to force and manipulate the circumstances to fit into my too-full schedule, so that I didn’t have to go too far out of my way and be too inconvenienced – I wanted God to work in my time frame in a way that made sense to me. I should know by now that God rarely works that way.
Not hard enough because maybe I wasn’t willing to go far enough outside of my comfort zone and my routine.
So this week, stepping out and serving “different” looked more like:
Engaging in genuine conversation with the barista at Starbucks – asking questions and taking the time to actually listen to her answers during a down moment on her Monday morning.
Putting a band-aid on a 3-yr-olds’ boo-boo. Which just for the record, makes it “All fixed!” His words, not mine.
Having a conversation with the man on the other side of the gas pump whose hands look like he’s been working on cars all morning. Sharing my blue pen with him and helping him find the auto part store.
And then just last night, as I thought I had fully processed all there was to learn this week, as I thought I was ready to step out and try again, I learned that a man I barely knew passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
I couldn’t help but cry.
This man, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, a man who likely wouldn’t even know my name, was a part of my own seminary education during my first couple of semesters as a semi-frequent and respected guest at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
His life reflected Jesus so well. And everything he said and did was an overflow of a heart that had lived it first and walked closely with the Father.
And yes, he did uncomfortable things and went to uncomfortable places, but I doubt he would have focused on that.
He just loved Jesus and loved people and lived a life of obedience and surrender.
I over-analyzed the heck out of this assignment, and none of it seems to matter now.
This life isn’t lived assignment to assignment. It’s lived in all out abandonment to and abiding in Christ. It’s being with Him … so close to the heart of Jesus that when He looks at those in our vicinity or across the world, those who are very similar to our own background or those who are a world apart, and says “That one,” or “Those people,” or “Go there,” or “Do that,” our hearts are in a state of readiness to hear it clearly and to just say “Yes.”
Maybe a “failed” assignment wasn’t so bad after all.
I still don’t know what God’s doing in all of this.
All I know is I’m not giving up on this one – I can’t NOT do it – but I’m not forcing it either.
I’m armed with gift cards and eyes wide open to where the Lord leads.
I’m ready to go a little further and lean into the Lord a little harder … trusting Him to guide my car and my heart to the right intersection or the right underpass.
I’ll sacrifice some spare time to search for the one in need, I’ll willingly enter the uncomfortable places outside of my typical routine, but after that, it’s in His hands.
And in the midst of all the failure that reminds me of my own humanity and brokenness and need, I just want to love Jesus and to reflect Him with this life.