By Dan Crain

ATLANTA – Loving people is very hard at times. I love my family dearly, but it can be very difficult.

We are called to love people with the hope that they will change. But, if I am honest with myself, sometimes I love people to change them.

When people don’t change, I sometimes grow frustrated.  I’m forced to wrestle with my own brokenness as I attempt to love them in the best possible ways.  I discover that I have unspoken expectations for people and how they will change.

“Skeptics are the ones who have turned their ideals into expectations.” That sentence – that wisdom –hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it in school.

Ministry can be dangerous and addictive. I remember my first ministry position, as a youth pastor. When I began, we had a very small gathering. It was not long before I was dreaming about what our group could become, and then I started to “idealize” about it. After I had perfected my ideals, I began to build my expectations about the group. Amazingly, those ideals and expectations turned into reality. The youth group grew, and kept expanding. This success – this surge – fed something dangerous in my soul.

Subsequently, when the church went through some very challenging things and the youth group started to decrease in numbers, I grew depressed. I questioned what I was doing wrong – what was wrong with me.

It was only after Christ called me out of ministry and to Himself that I started to examine the core of my interior life, and in that journey, I confronted the baggage I carried: I was addicted to change in people through ministry. In counseling terms, I was extremely co-dependent.

Upon digging further into my soul, the Spirit revealed to me that when my internal life was chaotic, I tried to control the people around me and to manage the events unfolding in my life. Because I had not properly understood God’s grace and love and truly accepted those blessings on my own, I sought to exert control over the people to whom I ministered.

My selfishness boiled down to this: I needed people to change so that I could feel better about myself.

A friend told me recently that God calls us to be faithful “to” people and not “for” people. The “for” in our attempts to love people puts expectations and parameters on our love. The “to” loves freely and without expectations.

I am not called by God to change or redeem anyone. Instead, I am called to love in the best ways possible. I am called to be as faithful and to listen as well as I can to those I seek to serve.

Perhaps this is what Paul is getting at in I Corinthians when he says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

I am slowly learning to release the change to God.

God is the author of change, not me. This realization – this truth – makes it easier for me to love my neighbor, to be truly joyful in ministry, because I’m not going to change a thing.  Sometimes it’s incredibly hard and downright difficult at times for me to live out this truth. But when I do, a deep and abiding joy sweeps over me, in the midst of it all.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain and his family in Atlanta.

Dan Crain is a liaison/trainer for Polis Institute. He and his wife Adrienne and their family live in South Atlanta. He can be reached at dan@polisinstitute.org.

Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.