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When Ministry Is Unfair

A better question than “Why me?”

Editor’s Note: I recently attended a large conference for church leaders. In a breakout session filled with women leaders serving in various roles, I heard heartbreaking stories of being overlooked, minimized, disrespected, and even harassed. They felt this way in their own churches, but especially as attendees at this particular conference. As the women shared their stories, many asked “Why?”—Why does God allow this injustice? Sitting together, however, holding each other’s pain, we began to move toward more helpful questions, like those suggested below. I pray that when you face the hard parts of ministry, you’ll begin to see these moments as invitations from God to join him in the work he’s doing. It’s not always easy, but it helps to know that God is already present with us in these tough situations.

When I was a child, Mom would swoop me into her arms when life didn’t go the way I wanted it to go. She would kiss my hurt places and miraculously make them better. When I was hurt by the actions of another, Mom would pick me up and comfort me by rocking me in the rocking chair as I cried, “It’s not fair,” until I was exhausted. As my world became more confusing and complicated, I stopped letting Mom comfort my heart and heal my knees. I no longer burst into tears when life hurts me, like I see my children do. And in growing up, I’ve lost some honesty. Now, my first response to pain is “I’m fine” as I busy myself with important projects, motherly duties, and spider solitaire.

Instead of asking “How can I be comforted?” when pain gets too loud to ignore, I ask, often coupled with an expletive or two, “Why did this happen to me?” I cry. I shake my fists. I look for someone to blame.

Why is the most unhelpful word I can’t stop saying. I have a long history of crying out, “Why?”

When we were growing up, my brother’s bedroom had two windows, and mine only had one. It seemed like Mark never even looked out the window. I sat in my windowsill for hours. I can’t count the times when Mom would try to comfort me in the rocking chair as I cried out, “Why?” to some such atrocity that rocked my little world. (It doesn’t take much, I know.) And I haven’t changed much, but eventually I wear myself out. The whys never seem to get me anywhere. They don’t make the situation go away, which is what I’m wanting. “Why?” always disappoints.

Fortunately, I eventually give up on the whys and get to the business of reconnecting with the God who is already present. I begin to ask “what” questions, such as “What can I do in this unwanted situation?” Sooner or later the golden “where” question arises: “God, where are you in this?” Which in turn leads me to “how”: “How are you inviting me to be in this?” This often takes time, but it is a way forward in times of loss. These questions remind me that God does the deep work of healing, restoration, and rebuilding trust. My job is to try to pay attention.

God Is Already Present

Amid all my questioning, a little, somewhat uninteresting word tumbled out between the lines of Scripture, bringing the reality of God’s presence home. It’s not a sexy word or spiritual sounding, yet it’s a word that whips my mental distractions into shape, interrupts my theological wanderings, and gives me a focus and clarity that has become a foundation and guide for my life. The word is already.

I first noticed its presence in the passage in Mark 4:38 where the disciples are in a storm fearfully watching the winds and waves overtake their little vessel. And where is Jesus? He is already in the boat . . . sleeping—on a cushion!

The point is, I don’t pray him into a situation; he is already there. That is all I need to remember. When I am overwhelmed, frightened, feeling out of control, unable to handle what life brings, Jesus is already present. Perhaps he is waiting for me to cry to him for help, perhaps he is beckoning me to crawl in next to him and fall asleep on the cushion in the midst of the storm. Whatever the invitation, he is there. So my question has become “What can I do to notice Jesus’ presence with me here and now?”

This is why I became a spiritual director. I love to go God-hunting with people and help them notice a whisper or a footprint where they least expect it. I love to sit with people experiencing a full divine embrace and bathe in the beautiful consolations of God. I also love to sit with people in the agony of God’s silence because I know that if we sit long enough, we will eventually, to quote Meister Eckhart, hear the God who is “like a person who clears his throat while hiding and so gives himself away.” We will hear the invitation and see the One who is already here and has been present with us all along. And as I sit with another on their sacred journey, I am reminded that God is intimately in the midst of my journey too, regardless of my current felt experience, and this helps.

Beth Allen Slevcove is a spiritual director, retreat leader, surfer, and mother living in San Diego. Taken from Broken Hallelujahs by Beth Allen Slevcove. Copyright 2016 by Beth Allen Slevcove. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

May12, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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