Frank, to spend your life and energy caring for someone who does not appreciate your care is an incredible act of selflessness. Or think of Sasha, who continues to provide care and guidance even though her efforts are often met with defiance? What will keep us going in these situations?
I do not want to be simplistic about any of this. None of this is easy. And you might not want to hear it, but the truth is sometimes the situation stays bad. Sometimes it gets worse. We have to be realistic about this.
sometimes the situation stays bad
So: why persist?
First up: when we keep serving in a hard situation, we are like God and we show his character. God’s core business is to make life thrive, and to bring order out of chaos. And we are created as his image. When we keep on serving we are his workmates. And his promise is that he will strengthen us and help us. He promises to be with us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Second: take a step back and ask ‘What am I learning? What is God teaching me in this?’ How is he using this challenge to shape me? Will his experience prepare me for some other challenge that may still lie ahead? I know it can sound a bit cliched, but sometimes even cliches are true.
Third: think of the person or people you are serving – Is it a waste for them? They may be defiant. They may not appreciate your care, or communicate their thanks. But some time later they may be able to look back and remember that someone like you cared for them. Or they may enjoy the comfort you provide, and for one more day their life may be more bearable. That fact that it remains unacknowledged does not change the reality that you are doing a good thing.
Or consider this: What do others see in what you are doing? Might they see God, or his attitudes, or the character of Jesus? I can think of a couple of people who just keep giving, and who just keep serving, and I see God’s grace and presence so clearly in what they do. But I bet sometimes they are sick of it.
Fourth: remember why you signed up. Sasha’s concept of remembering her calling is great. But let’s take it just a bit further: I think it’s better to remember the promises of the God who gave the call. Jeremiah. David. Other Psalmists, they all wrestled with their call, but you always hear their rock solid confidence in God, even in the midst of their deepest challenge. Check out Ps 73. God is faithful, and his lovingkindness is everlasting (Ps 136). He will never leave you or forsake you. And Jesus’ death and rising in victory is our absolute guarantee that God can be trusted.
When you are tired and drawn the easiest thing to do is to lose perspective. Here’s a few things to do to stay focused in doing good, even when your experience is bad:
Read the Gospels. Jesus was always under appreciated. He suffered rejection and rebellion from people on a daily basis. His support team ended up forsaking him. But he kept serving. He loved rebels. He died for sinners. He prayed for the people who persecuted him. He just keep loving and giving. Not only will his story inspire you, he will give you what you need to keep announcing and anticipating his kingdom through your selfless service. He lives in you through his spirit, and he knows what you’re up against. You are not alone.
Get enough rest. It’s not always possible, but try to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation will lower your patience, your capacity to show mercy, and your ability to function. It will get you thinking about yourself and resentful toward the ones you are serving. More sleep will increase your capacity to cope.
Exercise well. Walk. Ride. Whatever. Choose activities that are highly flexible, which you can do anywhere and pretty much any time. And because Leonie reads this blog, I also have to make a confession: I have to lift my own game here. Over the last year I have dropped my rhythm and let my bike riding go. Stupid. So I have to get my own act in order. I am going to hate it, but I know when I exercise it’s not only good for me physically, it helps me spiritually and emotionally. I always cope better when I exercise.
Engage in some “Spill your guts” therapy. Find a friend and pour your heart out to them regularly. They won’t often know what to do. That’s OK. The best thing they can do is listen to you and pray with you. Such friends stick closer than a brother. They become an embodiment of God’s grace.
To cap it off, just a few weeks ago I heard three people tell their story of how God has worked his grace into their lives. One was embittered against God with grief. Another was an agnostic. Yet another was a rationalistic atheist. But God used the words of people in their lives to draw them back to himself. In those stories we were given a glimpse of how God works though people all the time. It’s probably only rarely that we see the outcome, even so God works through our words and actions all the time. It’s only rarely that we see the outcome. So, keep serving, believing God will keep doing his work through you.
As I said above, sometimes the outcome is years down the track. Sometimes it’s an outcome is a completely different context. But perhaps the outcome will only be seen on The Big Day, when at last everything will be made right. And we will all honour God for his work through Jesus in people, who kept on doing the hard yards because they knew it was right and they knew God was with them.
So, no Frank it is never wasted. And yes, Sasha, it does make a difference, and especially to that one.
Grace and peace: Dave