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 more sexy 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. And Christians aren’t exempt.)

But as much as I joke about it–there’s an identity factor here, too. I’ve written to you about some legitimate fears I’ve grappled with upon returning from Africa. It’s tempting to think maybe God got this all wrong. Or maybe I did, electing my own “demotion”. 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 paintbox.

(Did you feel it? That flicker of doubt?)

I could explain the whole cluster of information behind our decision. And you may our may not agree with the values that dictated our return. Either way, God and I have been having a few talks lately.

In one of the recent discussions, I realized a metaphor for what I was wrestling with. It was as if 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. 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 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 significant and meaningful, doggone it.

So the passage I’ve drilled down through lately is this one:

(If the whole Body were a sous chef, where would the pastry chef be?)

I mean, the Body of Christ has to have parts like, oh, a pancreas. No one wakes up in the morning and says, Gee. I hope I get to do some pancreatic work today.

But y’know? Talk to a diabetic friend–or think of all those who passed on before insulin was discovered. Think you can live without a pancreas?

I simply 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. Achievement. Usefulness. An ability to change our circumstances for the better. But as good as those are, sometimes my disdain for the commonplace boils to good ol’ fashioned pride. Sometimes, I’m not sure God shares my American value of usefulness 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 simply lies in being His daughter, rather than my contribution (anybody else hear Martha and Mary tones in there?). The point is, I’m His. In the words of John Bunyan,

Gifts are desirable, but great grace and small gifts are better than great gifts and no grace.

Or maybe I could just remind myself, If anyone wants to be first, he must be very last, and be the servant of all. As in, Lord, I’ll serve you wherever you stick me.

I’ve learned that God treasures the lives made of a single piece of cloth, cut in the shape of service. But God also values the lives that look more like a bag of fabric scraps, some big pieces, some tiny pieces, different colors and weaves. At each stage in my life, with each piece of it, I try to ask God, “How can I offer this to you?” I have to trust that if I offer all the odds and ends of my life, God will stitch together the pieces in some lovely pattern and receive it as my gift.*

– Debra Rienstra


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