Sunday, February 14, 2016

God's Work, Good Works, and Surviving a Long Grey Winter

Valentine's Day again, and for the second year in a row I am spending it hiding in my office. Last year, I was quarantined from the radiation I'd had the day before. This year I am hiding from my mother. It sounds terrible, I know, but she has been glued to my hip for the past seventy-two hours, and isolation is crucial to the preservation of my sanity, which is crucial to surviving the remaining days (weeks?!) of Winter. (Besides, Scott is an incredibly wonderful man, and is standing-in for a bit.) These days are particularly difficult for her. She loves to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine; the cold temperatures we are experiencing right now, and the past weeks of grey snow skies and mere glimpses of sunshine have kept her restless and ill at ease. She is forever looking to me for cues: "What are we doing now?"; and she stares at me almost the entire time we are doing it: "What should I be feeling now? What should the expression on my face read now? What is your expression telling me? What should I be saying now?" The role of caregiver goes far beyond meeting physical or financial needs; emotional needs are just as important, if not more, to someone who is trapped in a life going in reverse. "I don't have a problem doing [God's work]; I just have a problem dealing with it."

Many people see "doing God's work" as a Mother Teresa sort of thing: unbelievably selfless, full-time, deeply devout; rubbing shoulders with the destitute and privileged alike, hugely public and incalculably effective. But the majority of God's work doesn't remotely resemble that. The majority of God's work takes place in "the small," "the mundane:" the kind word, the smile, the polite gesture; the brilliant green of the trees in Springtime, or the vibrant colors of Autumn; the soft warmth and clean cottony smell of flannel sheets in Winter; the emerging glow of fireflies at dusk. God's work is found in His creation and in one another. We tend to think God's work stems from us, from the things we do; but God's work comes from God, and when it is revealed in the things we do or the things we experience, it is a privilege and a blessing for us as well as others. Ephesians 2:10 tells us "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Good works like telling the truth and obeying your parents, sure; good works like helping and blessing others, also; but good works like revealing and appreciating how awesome God is! Good works preordained. Imagine that. God set in motion before we were ever born, those we would help, those who would help us, the sunrises we would see and the wafts of wildflowers that would reach us. For His glory, to make His character known, and to edify one another! Whether I am "doing God's work" in the largest or smallest of ways, or experiencing God's works outside our windows, knowing all this is part of God's plan makes me think I should take even the smallest opportunity pretty seriously. And it reminds me that God's work is not about me or even the people I might serve; I -- like skies and birds and seasons -- are His workmanship, created to bring Him glory.

About this time last year, Scott and I were discussing what it meant to "do God's work." That's when he looked at me and uttered those words: "I don't have a problem doing it; I just have a problem dealing with it." How true! God's work doesn't always fit our plans or preferences. God's work sometimes means unhappiness and spiders and cancer; or "private people" relinquishing some privacy; or poverty for the sake of sharing the Gospel with those in poverty. God's work sometimes means having to witness a loved one sink further into addiction, or dementia, or apostasy, or ALS, or despair each day, but striving in Christ to be light and salt and fragrance to them; to minister to their needs in whatever capacity we are called. And it's not always easy to deal with. But God would never prepare good works for us to walk in, and not go with us on the journey: "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) God will supply all I need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19). Therefore, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13) -- all the good works He prepared for me to do; all the good works He prepared for me to experience, even a long grey winter.

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