Anne blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband, Jay, are founders of a ministry called The Bridge, focusing on missional living and advocacy for youth in vulnerable places of life. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages (English and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. Jay and Anne have five kids, a front door that can’t stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos at their neighborhood center/home in Iowa – of all places.
Months ago, we sat around a board table, alongside faithful souls who have been in these trenches with us for over six years, and we faced a challenging reality. And, for the first time in years, I wasn’t anxious at the propositions. Truth is, I have come to care less and less about the actual work of this ministry. But, not in a cynical, unhappy way. I’m just coming to a certain realization lately:
The less I love the work, the more I love Jesus.
The work of this ministry has broken us, inflicted us emotionally, inspired us, moved us, and fueled us. It’s been fulfilling as well as frustrating. It’s been beautiful and enough of a blankedty-blank mess that I've been mercifully forced to allow God to reframe my thinking.
Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you, too, have zeroed in on the serving while the Who went out of focus in the background - and have then felt the enormous, exhausting burden of it, so much so that you too have embraced an aha moment: there has to be a better way.
Yes, there is a better way, and it's always choosing devotion to Jesus over doing for Jesus.
But working for Jesus can be a sanitized distraction, can't it? It can be a lovely cover that embellishes a soul too tired or scared or unworthy or proud to dare approach the Who. I've been all of those, and probably simultaneously, at some point of this journey. After all, succeeding at good causes can be a beautiful trap, with supporters and titles as its disguise.
So, after a couple bouts of debilitating stress, this occurred to me: often we smash the concepts of Jesus and service together into one large bite to swallow. And, this causes two problems:
First, sometimes the Jesus factor is used to sweeten the service, effectively covering the toxins of too much. It causes us to take on more, do more, bend more, go too far, and take on risks - because, after all, it's all about Jesus, right? (No, actually Jesus doesn't call us to self-abuse in His name, and self-abuse and sacrifice are not the same. That's for another post.)
Second, sometimes the service factor becomes no longer identifiable as separate from Jesus. The two start to look the same, and we start to believe that doing for Jesus is actually the same as being devoted to Jesus - that talking about Jesus is the same as talking to Jesus, and that loving people like Jesus is the same as loving Jesus. (And, it's just not. One will burn you out, and the other will light you up.)
"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5
See, ministry or any spiritual service or any good and decent cause runs a risk of competing with our love for Jesus. It looks so similar, feels right, and can easily slip right into that divine hole in our hearts which should be filled by God alone.
Instead of taking that bite of mixed parts Jesus and service, I propose a new approach: it's just Jesus. He's the fuel, the one who empowers us. Love Him. Let the work and the service be a side dish - one that knows its place and never tries to trump the main thing and isn't even expected without the main thing.
And so, today may we consider this: Do I love the work more than I love Jesus?
Would I rather be spending time working, serving, teaching, sharing for Him – or being before Him directly?
Friends, let's focus on the One who equips and empowers, who loves us and covers us.
Stay. Remain close to the Source of hope, love, and joy. And never let your heart be moved by causes more than by Christ.
One of our children hid under the table the other morning and threw her shoes and socks at us. No words, just grunts and whines.
“I’m guessing you’re a little frustrated,” I said, as my husband, Jay, pulled her out, kicking and flailing. Connected parenting, connected parenting, connected parenting my mind shouted at me. I attempted. I asked for eye contact, cradled her like a baby, talked about the “big feelings” and how to handle them next time.
But later on, I lamented to Jay that I had probably handled it all wrong. It's hard work to change one's parenting style from more traditional to this connected style necessary for kids from hard places. Maybe demanding eye contact wasn’t all that connected. Maybe I should’ve just gone to her, under the table even.
“Hey, we are learning at least,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess,” I muttered, “and at this rate, maybe we’ll at least be helpful grandparents.”
Because, as it turns out, parenting is tough.
See, I thought we were A-OK when we had one child. But, never trust a one-child parent. Don’t read books or blogs by them either – or their husbands.
Our first-born is one of our biological children as well. And, we thought we understood a few things on parenting. Not so. Then we adopted internationally and dove into topics of attachment and bonding, semi-survived, and figured we then understood a fair amount about having both biological and adoptive children. Not so – for they grow and start talking (back).
Then, we started to foster. We were blind-sided by trauma and its effects on children. Words like “triggers” and “flashbacks” and “regression” have become everyday words.
Parenting now is a give-it-all-you-got-and-pray-this-thing-works kind of endeavor.
That perfect, color-coded family picture to hang on a clean mantel? We’re not going for that anymore. We’re in a messy work where standards have changed.
Namely, we’re learning to think less about changing our kids (and their behavior) and more about changing ourselves. Because, at the end of the day, parenting changes us. We’re learning that it’s less about their discipline and more about our own self-control. Less about maintaining order and more about maintaining our composure. Less about teaching them and more about ourselves becoming trustworthy. Less about who they should be and more about meeting them as they are.
Less about being authoritative and more about being their advocate.
Less about the behavior and more about the big feelings behind it.
Less about their correction and more about our connection.
So, my little girl under the table wasn’t being defiant, contrary to my former parenting style. She didn’t need to be disciplined for disobeying my direction to get her shoes on. She didn’t need to be reprimanded for throwing things in the house, or shamed for making us late, or emotionally manipulated for “making Mommy sad.”
I am the parent. Change happens with me first.
Truth is, I saw my other child pat her on the back – harder than necessary, although unintentionally so – before leaving the room. And, I could’ve chosen to address it rather than brush it off as something to just “get over.” This little girl was scared and mad that anyone would even venture close to hitting her in this family, this place she has been told is safe.As her parent, I can choose to receive from her first, interpreting her actions as communication about her needs, forego the urge to correct, and instead choose to connect in ways that promote healing.
This morning, she needed to know from a calm, composed parent that she can trust us. That she doesn’t need to “just get over it” and be thus pushed into denial or silence about the effects of her past; no, she needs encouragement to raise her voice and enforce boundaries for her body that make her comfortable and safe. And, she needs to know her parents will be right there, alongside her, helping battle the forces from her past – the ones that make her want to crawl under the table when pats on the back are too heavy, too scary.
But, it’s not just for kids from hard places. Each of us and every child longs for connection before correction and to know that parents are not just “laying down the law,” but that they are listening carefully to hear the needs behind the behaviors.
So, I’m thankful for this catalyst called foster care that is requiring us to adjust our parenting style. It’s changing us.
We might be helpful grandparents after all.
Do you want to learn more about loving children from hard places - maybe as parent, teacher, friend, or caregiver? Please check these resources.
Purvis, K. B., Cross, D. R., & Sunshine, W. L. (2007). The Connected Child: Bringing hope and healing to your adoptive family. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Buy The Connected Child here.
Welcome to our current Book Journey of Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. I publish posts weekly that summarize one of the five phases of the book, following the initial book review. You can find a schedule with more details at the end. Thank you for reading along - whether it's the actual book, these summary posts, the daily quotes on the facebook page, or at any level! I pray the Spirit can use the teachings in this book to deeply transform each of us to love and live more like Jesus.
Summary of Phase Two (part 1)
Teaching an old dog new tricks
In this section, Jen wrestled with the concept of "new," a theme found often in Scripture. (Matthew 9:17, Matthew 13:52, Mark 1:27, Romans 6:4, Romans 7:6, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 4:23)
The definition of new is given here as, "Other than the former or the old; different and better." What troubled Jen primarily was that her life didn't look particularly different than average.
Because, sure, parts of my life were different from your average Westerner's, but not really. I went to church way more than a normal human would or should, but I still had too much debt, too much pride, too much self-absorption, same as everyone. I lived for me and mine. Outside my spiritual titles - pastor's wife, Bible teacher, Christian author and speaker - there were no radical lifestyle distinctions that would cause anyone to say, 'Wow, you live a really different life.' I realized I was completely normal. But my Savior was the most un-normal guy ever. And it was His un-normal ideas that made everything new.
Jen goes on to describe the countercultural aspects of Jesus and His actions. While the things He said, such as "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you (John 6)," were a challenge - it was also the things He did and the people He associated with and didn't associate with.
But it wasn't just what He said; it was what He did. It was who He spent time with, who He talked to, who He argued with - to say nothing of His very unaffluent life. we took Jesus' famous teaching away and just focused on the way He lives, He would still be radical. Which, of course, I've heard, but somehow was content letting Jesus do the messy work. I would just talk about it.
Desiring, doing, and remembering
God continued to open Jen's eyes as she spent time in Scripture. Earlier in the chapter, she said, "God does His heaviest spiritual lifting with me in the Word." This time, she was reading about the account the Passover meal before Jesus' crucifixion.
He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:19-20)
As Jen puts it, Jesus was doing and saying something revolutionary here, "redefining a Jewish ritual with a 1,500-year history...Jesus was transforming the untransformable." Jesus wasn't simply serving a meal for the disciples, He was saying He was the meal, the sacrifice. While individuals like Judas and Pilate played roles in Jesus' crucifixion, they did not take His life. In truth, "Jesus had eluded death countless times before the cross," Jen says, therefore His was an offering in order to fulfill a greater purpose.
Jen's description of communion here is one of my favorite parts of this book. Please read this section, if nothing else. What follows is an explanation of communion that both challenged me and clarified the practice in my mind.
When Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of Me" - what exactly does He mean?
Is this a simple matter of observing the Lord's Supper once a quarter? Was Jesus emphasizing the Jewish custom of ritual, just with new symbolism?
Jen explains that Jesus was using the present tense verb form that requires continuous, perpetual action - not just a one-time command. The part that stood out to me, though, was this: the word remembrance is from anamnesis, which means "to make real." Thus, communion is about more than just remembering Jesus' sacrifice. It's not just recalling the offering and being thankful for it.
Remembrance means honoring Jesus' mercy mission with tangible, physical action since it was a tangible, physical sacrifice. In other words, "Constantly make this real"... Not only was Communion a symbolic ritual, it was a new prototype of discipleship. "Continuously make My sacrifice real by doing this very thing. Become broken and poured out for hopeless people. Becoming a living offering, denying yourself for salvation and restoration of humanity...We don't simply remember the meal; we become the meal.
Jen finishes by explaining a concept the Lord had impressed on my heart over the years, something I wrote about here in Can't I just watch from my window and recently in a reflection about our recent adoption. Redemption has a cost, or, as Jen says it, "Mercy has a cost; someone must be broken for someone else to be fed."
I love Jen's concluding words:
That sermon that changed your life? That messenger was poured out so you could hear it. The friends who stood in the gap during your crisis? They embraced some sacrifice of brokenness for your healing. Anytime you say 'That fed me, that nourished me,' someone was the broken bread for your fulfillment...self-sacrifice is hardwired into the mission of a believer... Death in me = life in you. Broken so someone else is fed. "Feed my lambs."
Given the content of this Phase Two, I've decided to cover it in two sections instead of just one; today's post is on part 1, and I will post part 2 on Wednesday, June 22.
Questions to Consider
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