Thursday, January 13, 2011

gratitude noted

(confession: this is a cross-posting from my church's blog, to which i contribute posts occasionally as a staff member [children's minister]. thus the formatting differences--i just can't bring myself to go through and get rid of all the capital letters...)

One of the beautiful things about working in ministry, I’m learning, is the frequency with which my work overlaps with what is really important in life.

It was the week before Christmas, and there was too much to do. Too much work: preparing for Christmas Eve service, two Sundays’ worth of activity preparation for the kids, year-end budgeting, nursery clean up. Too much preparation at home: hundreds of truffles to make, a monstrous scrapbook gift to finish, a day-long road trip to the frozen tundra looming two days before Christmas. Too much planning: gifts to buy, laundry and packing to start (and finish!), stockings to stuff, family outings to organize. And too much “regular” life with which to keep up: dinner to make, dishes to wash, pine needles to vacuum, family to care for, third trimester to endure.

And on Monday of this week of too much, I had ministry thank you notes to write. Nearly forty children’s ministry volunteers to thank, each with an individual note. It would take all morning. But if the notes were to get in the mail, Monday had to be the day. So I turned on some Christmas music, closed the door, and settled in to the task I envisioned to be slow and frustrating and not the best use of precious time in which I could do too much else.

And this is where my work in ministry reminded me of what my too-busy real life ought to be about. Because as I wrote each volunteer’s name, as I thanked each person for what s/he has brought to the ministry for the past year, as I really considered the sacrifices each of these people makes to care for and teach and love on our church’s youngest members, I had time to stop and pray for each one. I had time to lift up the burdens that I knew some were carrying, to give thanks for the joys some others were experiencing, to give thanks for the faithful service of each one.

On paper, all I accomplished that morning was to check off one item on my list: write thank you notes. But in reality, in the quiet moments I spent realizing how grateful I was for each volunteer I checked off my list, I accomplished something much more important, something that is a perpetual struggle for me. I was still and grateful. I was in the presence of the Lord, alone in my quiet space, and I was reminded of his many gifts to me—that day, I was specifically reminded of the gifts of all the people that come alongside me in ministering to our church’s children. And I had the time and space to thank him for that gift, on that day of all days when I had no time for stillness or quiet or gratitude.

My scrapbook didn’t get finished in time (and it’s still not finished). My laundry didn’t get done. My packing was disorganized and insufficient. I didn’t get nearly enough sleep. But my soul was rejoicing in God’s great gifts, and in a world of too-much-all-the-time, it is yet another good gift when my job reminds me to be still and revel in those gifts. And what better way to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus—God’s very best gift—than to do just that?

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