By Dan Crain
ATLANTA – In 2004 I went through a very bad experience with a church, and for the next few years I struggled through my insecurities about my broken ties with this church. I was an empty person who had found my sense of belonging and acceptance as a pastor. I thought I could solve my own issues through prayer and solitude with Jesus.
In 2008 I was sitting with a counselor friend named Amy. In conversation, she asked, “How are you doing?” Her question was an invitation to peer into my soul in a way that only a trained counselor could.
I immediately began to sweat and shake. I had been caught. She knew that something was not right with me, and I did not want to confess my need.
I had lost the capacity to receive because I thought I could solve my own problems, and I had assumed control. Moreover, I did not want to relinquish control over my own ”issues.”
I observe this happening all the time with pastors and ministry leaders who are always considered “the answer people.” They are always in the position of helping, serving, giving. They give with little regard to themselves, and often find justification in such. I feel the tension in myself.
This can lead to burnout, a loss of capacity to receive.
Ministry itself can be addicting, because it often feeds something very dangerous in our souls.
Those of us in leadership in any context give and give and give, and at some point, we can lose our capacity to receive.
Receiving is hard, very hard. In American culture, we are typically defined by what we do, accomplish and achieve. Receiving is the antithesis of this. Receiving means that I need to ask for help to get something done. And most Americans don’t like to ask for help.
As Americans, we work for everything we get, right?
I would argue that we don’t want to ask for help because we honestly don’t believe that we are worth whatever someone wants to give us. Whenever someone pays us a compliment or gives us something nice, we hide our faces in shame, saying, “If you only knew me and how bad I am.”
When you ponder our typical response, you encounter the heart of the gospel. Christ wants to give us good things in the midst of our brokenness.
This is one of the aspects of the parable of the Two Lost Sons in Luke 15 that I love. The younger son leaves home and destroys everything that the Father had given him. He ends up sleeping with prostitutes. He decides to return home, not to be the son, but to be the servant who works to earn his goodness back.
The father, however, not only embraces his returning son, but cloaks him with a robe, puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And then the father throws a party. Can you imagine what the younger son thinks as a party is thrown in his honor? He is probably thinking to himself, “Dad, I just wasted all of your money by partying and sleeping with prostitutes. I am not worthy of what you are doing.”
I can only imagine the father turning looking into his son’s eyes and saying, “Yes, you are. You are worth everything I am doing for you.”
Christ wants us to receive help.
Why? Because we are fundamentally worth whatever Christ wants to give us through other people. Christ is on our side. He honestly believes in our goodness when we come to him in repentance.
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My friend Amy and I met for two hours the next day, to begin to sort through some of my issues with God, church, and life. For the first time, I began to experience Christ serve me as I began to learn what it means to receive. It was the beginning of a journey toward freedom. I am still on that journey today.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.