Do you have a change jar at your house? Maybe a Mason jar on the counter where you put all your spare change, instead of letting it fall into the sofa or collect in the car's cupholders. If you don't have a jar, you know how frustrating it is to try to collect enough change when you need it, but taking a second or two to intentionally place it in the jar keeps it ready to hand. Hold onto that thought.
Like most missionaries, I tend to write about the high points: the amazingly blessed days when God works through and around me in a mighty and visible way. Those are inspiring and often humorous stories, and my prayer is that they help show nursing home ministry in a different light.
But they can also be misleading. Because ministry - any ministry - is not a series of God-anointed steps from mountain-top to mountain-top. There are days when I can echo my friend Shannen, serving in with Empower a Child in Uganda, who says, "Dirty feet and chipped toenail polish...there are many times I feel as if the work I am doing here is small and insignificant."
[read about Shannen's ministry here: http://ugandashan.blogspot.com/]
Those days happen. There are days when I leave the Community Care Center (CCC) feeling like I have done no Kingdom Work all day. Other days I feel guilty that I have had so much fun with the residents and have had not a single spiritual conversation, except maybe grace over lunch.
And until recently, those days would haunt me. I would feel let-down; and worse-I would feel like I was letting God down; and I'd mope about for simply DAYS wondering whether God was done using me. I knew that it was wrong to let a couple slow weeks wipe out the rejoicing over a month of fantastic ones. But willing myself to just forget it and go on wasn't working (I sometimes don't listen to myself). Prayer didn't take away that feeling, either. And I kept trying to remember the uplifting occurrences, but I had trouble calling them up when I needed them (like the change that fell behind the sofa cushions in my introduction).
But then I noticed something:
Did you catch the common word in Shannen's post and my ramblings? Feeling. Feelings, my friends, are never to be trusted. They are what they are, but what they are is shifting sands. Fine to put your blanket on and sit for a while to build sand castles and watch the ocean; bad to build anything on if you want it to be standing tomorrow. I knew that, but how could I change those feelings?
After one breathtakingly blessed day following a discouraging couple of weeks, I said to myself, "See? You've been having a dry run, but today was wonderful! And last time you had a slow streak, the blessed times came. And the time before that it was the same. You're saving up memories of the low times and stretching them out to cover the good times. Maybe you should do the opposite."
So that's what I started doing. I've started setting up a mental change jar; a place to intentionally store positive memories, to save them for a rainy day. Any time I have a God-led moment, or see someone I've been greeting for months finally come to church, or even just have an especially positive interaction, I intentionally save that memory, keeping it in reserve to focus on during the down times; like dropping coins into the jar on the counter.
For example, I recently took the little boys to visit our special resident friend Josef (you've met Josef in previous posts), and while they were talking to him he reached out and took my hand. He rarely reaches out to anyone, and he just sat there holding my hand while my two youngest shared some little-boyish adventures with him. On my way out of the room, I said to myself "Now, keep this to remember next time your interactions with Josef get discouraging."
And this past week, I needed it.
On Sunday, Josef motioned me to come in, made a place for me to
sit on his bed....and then continued watching TV as if I wasn't there.
My few attempts to engage him in conversation fell flat, so I just
sat. Men don't need as many words as women, and sometimes they just
enjoy having company to sit with them and do...whatever they're doing.
But I looked up at one point to find he'd fallen asleep in his
wheelchair! This was a bummer, and a
couple months ago this would have put a damper on my whole day.
But not this time.
When I realized he'd fallen asleep, I laid a hand gently on his shoulder and prayed a blessing over him, then tiptoed out of his room. And when I was tempted to feel let-down, I trotted out the memory I'd put in my change jar, and walked off cheerfully to visit Susan.
This idea is useful no matter what ministry you're involved in. Set up a mental change jar to deposit examples of God's blessings and faithfulness, to remind yourself that, even if you don't always see the way God is working...He is working, nonetheless.
"Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness." Psalm 37:3