From the time I was a little girl I was drawn to those living in poverty, and I went to college to become a social worker. When we started Willow Creek, my dream was for our church to become a community of people radically committed to compassion and justice. I served in our first ministry partnerships in the inner city of Chicago and went on some of our first serving trips to Latin America. I lived in an affluent suburb, but sitting in a squalid shanty town in Mexico passing out canned peaches to little barefoot kids was really where I felt most at home and most alive.
But whenever my involvement in ministry seemed to inconvenience Bill or the kids, or in any way kept me from living up to other people’s expectations — which it always did — then I withdrew, backed out, quit. When I felt frustrated, or even angry, about having to do that, I confessed my sin, my selfishness, my demanding spirit.
I thought that was the right thing to do. I thought denying my gifts and passions was part of what it meant to “die to self,” as Scripture requires. I didn’t realize there was a difference between dying to self-will and dying to the self God created me to be.
Yes, we must live according to the ebb and flow of life’s seasons, and our movement between ministry within the home and beyond the home must shift according to the needs of those seasons. I think this is true for both men and women, both fathers and mothers.
And yes, there is a necessary sacrifice — a suffering even — that is part of the life of every servant of Jesus. We need to ask for grace and strength to endure these challenges.
If year after year our lives are consumed with activities we’ve been neither gifted nor impassioned to do, and we never have a chance to slide into the sweet spot of giving out of our true self, we pay a higher price in ministry than God is asking us to pay. And the saddest thing is, when we allow this to happen, nobody wins.
I thought I was sacrificing parts of myself for the sake of others, but you know what?
Bill didn’t win. He married me, in part, because he fell in love with the confidence, competence, and energy for life and ministry he saw in me. But decades of ignoring, neglecting, and denying my true gifts and passions had drained me of the very vitality he had been drawn to, and left me feeling incompetent and insecure — not at all the person Bill hoped to share his life with. So my husband didn’t win.
Our kids didn’t win. They got a very devoted, conscientious mother, who picked up after them, made sure they got their homework done, and took them wherever they needed to go without complaining. They got a mother who adored them, prayed for them, always wanted the best for them. But they didn’t get a joyful mother. They didn’t get a fun mother. They didn’t get to see, up close and personal, a woman fully alive in God.
My church did not win. It was clear our church needed Bill. He has been an extraordinary pastor. I never wanted to hinder what he could offer to our church, and I certainly don’t want to now. But my church needed me too, not because I am anything special but simply because it is where God put me, and God put me there for a reason. God gave me a unique perspective and worthy dreams. God gave me words and influence to use for good. But I didn’t use them. I didn’t show up. I might have been there physically, but my gifts — my soul — didn’t show up. I didn’t value what I had to offer enough to actually offer it.
What about you? Are you showing up?
I hope you realize how much your family, your friends, your church, your community, and this world need you. Don’t allow who you truly are to be lost, buried, or devalued. What is in you matters. What is most truly you matters. You have learned lessons, experienced pain, known joys, and gained a perspective nobody else has. You have an answer to the world’s needs that is yours alone.
Whether God has called you to set up shop in a big corner office or at your kitchen table; to minister to large groups or to one person in need; to give forty hours a week or to be responsive to unexpected moments here and there; what you have to offer matters.
From Nice Girls Don’t Change the World by Lynne Hybels
Adapted from Nice Girls Don’t Change the World.
Copyright © 2006 by Lynne Hybels, published by Zondervan, used with permission.