Servanthood - Name Your Fear
Luke 19:11-27-11 Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Trade with these till I come.’ …. 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he has given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19 and he said to him, ‘and you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 he said to him, ‘I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.” 25 (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 ‘I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
Many years ago, around 1984 or 5, Paul and I felt drawn to adopt again. We had given birth to two children and had adopted four more, but still felt there was room in our hearts and lives for more children. We talked about it and discussed it on numerous occasions and our ambivalence was clear….we wanted to adopt again but were pulling back from adopting again. Finally our discussions yielded fruit when we were able to figure out exactly what our reluctance was. We were afraid. Specifically, we were afraid of one of us dying, leaving the other a single parent of 7 plus children. (Neither of us was afraid of dying. Neither of us wanted to be the survivor.) Once we named our fear we were able to address it, address the likelihood of one of us dying, address the money issues and practical issues of single parenting. Naming and addressing our fear, resolved it for us, energized us, excited us, empowered us, and we were then able to move forward and adopt a sibling group of three. Having 9 children almost killed us, but that is another story!
The point is, we had to name our fear before we could overcome our paralyzing inertia.
The man given the charge of one talent was asked by his master to invest what he was given and give an accounting of the talent when the master returned. He couldn’t do it. He was paralyzed by fear, just as Paul and I had been. The problem is that his fear was misguided. He was afraid of doing the wrong thing when he should have been afraid of doing nothing. His master condemned him for doing nothing.
People asked me if I was afraid to travel to India when missiles from Pakistan were pointed at Ahmadabad, or Nepal when the Maoists were torching police stations, or Peru after the Shining Path bombed the US Embassy or Beijing after the Americans bombed the East European embassy and rioters were taking to the streets. Maybe I am just plain dumb, but I have always been far more afraid of doing nothing then of getting hurt doing something. I refuse to let my life be ruled by fear. So when we had to decide a course for our family we named our fear and moved through it. That has made all of the difference in the way Paul and I live our lives. It has freed us up to be citizens of the world, family to the world’s poor.
What fears did we have to work through? There were many.
As we adopted more and more children we had to work through the fear that if we had all these kids then there would not be enough resources left over for our “real” children. We wouldn’t be able to buy them a car in high school. We wouldn’t be able to send them to an out of state university. They wouldn’t have the latest styles of clothing……Guess what, that fear disappeared as soon as we realized that all of our children are our “real” children. What replaced it was the incredible joy of creating our topsy-turvy family. What we did in our family was worth all of the sacrifices we made and we asked our “real” children to make. When we asked various adult children whether we had ruined their lives by having such a large family they all stated in one form or another that their lives were far richer for the presence of their siblings then they ever could have been with merely a car or expensive education. We hadn’t robbed them of anything….rather we had gifted them beyond measure.
Now, as we spend our children’s inheritance, we have to confront the realization that there will not be much of an estate for our children. We named the fear as being afraid that in this uncertain world our children would not be able to manage without our leaving them something to help them create good lives for themselves. When we talked this fear over with our children they were insulted that we thought so little of their capabilities that we actually thought they needed a bequest from us in order to make it.
As we took on more and more of the work in Peru we had to work through the fears created by expending so much time and energy in Manchay. We were afraid that the diversion of resources would compromise the financial health of our retirement. Oh, ye of little faith. Rather then compromising our retirement we are building up a wealth of memories and experiences that will last us far longer then the few dollars we have expended would have lasted.
In other projects in India and Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam, where corruption is rampant, there has been the fear that the resources would be misused. Naming that fear empowered us to put in place safe guards that would, as much as possible, prevent that. Ultimately what I have had to do with that fear is tell myself that it is up to me to serve and reach out. I am not called to be responsible for the seeds that are sown. I am merely called to sow the seeds.
Another fear that has taken hold of us occasionally is the fear that, once we begin a life of generous servanthood, we will get carried away and want to give more then we intended. Lo, and behold, that is exactly what has happened. Only, it is not scary. It is exhilarating to be in such close relationship with the people of Manchay that we consider them part of our family. Being members of the same family means we willingly, without any sense of sacrifice, share our abundance. In return, because we are family, the people of Manchay share of their abundance. The abundance they share with us is worth more then any pittance of dollars or days that we give to them. The overflowing of my spirit that occurs every time I land in Lima is my “pearl of great price.” It is worth so much to me that I am going to Manchay to teach English in March and will stay for three months. My fear is not that I am staying too long, but that I will want to stay longer.
We preach and teach in this place that we do not have any fears about getting into heaven, whatever that means. God has promised us that “Neither height, nor depth, nor principalities, nor things that have been, nor things to come can separate us from the love of God.” So I am not afraid of losing salvation if I don’t live my life the way Jesus modeled. What I am afraid of is not experiencing heaven here and now, of not living in the kingdom while I am here on earth, of not sharing the abundance that is mine with the members of my larger family.
Fear can be disabling or it can be empowering. It can be paralyzing or energizing. Contentment can be both a blessing and a curse. It calms our spirit but it can also lull us into complacency and unconsciousness. When mere contentment is insufficient and when you want more out of life, then you are ready to reach out. Reaching out does not mean you have to travel to exotic places. It can mean joining a service organization (Paul is an Optimist and I am a Rotarian). It can mean teaching Sunday School, or cleaning up the highway. It can mean coaching a youth sport or building with Habitat for Humanity. It can mean anything except sitting at home watching the wide world of need go by. When you find a service that is right for you and you overcome the fears of servanthood you will learn, really learn, that servanthood is not sacrifice. It is a lot of things and arouses a huge array of emotions, but resentment or regret are not among them. But…and this is the big but, you don’t know that until you step out in faith and experience it.
The servant was only given one talent, but he was expected to use it to the best of his ability. He was accountable for that one talent but let it stagnate out of fear. In order for each of us to step out in faith, step out as servants of the living God, we have to name our fears, name the impediments we have placed in front of us that prevent us from sharing our abundance, and address them so they can be overcome, instead of used as excuses for inertia.
The Hage family motto? “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!”