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Deferring to God

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It's four o'clock and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has just begun visiting hours as Alice Rouse, a 31-year-old outreach worker for Starlight Ministries of the Emmanuel Gospel Center is buzzed through the doors of the ICU. Today her friend Adam began his 17th birthday by shooting China White, the purest form of heroin, and then stringing himself up in the shower with a bed sheet.

Adam is paralyzed with sedatives after a recent attempt to pull out his tubes and IV, but as Alice approaches his bed, he smiles and whispers, "finally." She has brought her guitar and will play "It is Well with My Soul," same as last year when she and Adam were here for the same reason. As she leaves the hospital, she weeps for him, for the familiarity of that stark scene, for the long road of recovery they have in front of them. A week later he's discharged and calls Alice in a rage, "I've been locked up in the hospital for days and will forever hate you for not visiting!" Alice explains that he must not remember, that there were sedatives, but she's making little progress because Adam is already hurt. She hangs up the phone and shrugs.

Watching Alice shrug off a bitter harpooning from someone she loved was perplexing to me as her intern, the new kid on the street. It was my first week on the ground with homeless and street-involved youth in Boston, and I had no gauge for the severity of situations like this. Most of all, I had never known someone confident enough to release a harrowing trauma into the care of God with such ease. I later realized that this nonchalance was not insensitivity, but trust. I also began to recognize my own tendency in ministry to embark on relational safaris to maintain favor with everyone I encounter. A situation like this would have sent me reeling. I had to know: What does Alice have that I don't?

Lately, I find myself among a group of young women professionals in Christian ministry who are viciously - if politely - competing for roles of power and working day and night to build unsurpassable resumes. This population of women operate under the theological premise that their privilege and resource pool requires them to seek opportunities for using their gifts to the fullest capacity. The result is often a success- driven missiology.

However, not once in the seven weeks that I stood beside Alice in ministry, did she move out of a need to set herself apart. I quickly discovered her secret: She defers to the power of God that is moving in the lives of those she loves. She defers rather than turning everything into an emergency where she is the only skilled firefighter. She visits her friends in the hospital but not because they'll thank her afterwards. To an outsider, this may seem like a posture of complacency, but a closer look reveals that it is a posture of deference. I began to ask myself, how much of my daily energy is spent ensuring that I maintain another person's favor and earn an ?A' in this relationship?

March04, 2008 at 4:01 PM

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