@kathleen, thank you for these wise insights.
For me, I have spent a considerable amount of time resigned to misery in God’s service.
In one season of my life, I was heavily influenced by a community of Christians who voluntarily embraced poverty to live among the poor and be generous with their resources. Consequently, I lived in two low-resource neighborhoods, one in Memphis, and another in Boston. The time in Memphis was relatively happy, though it was an area that no pizza company would deliver to, and very few friends came to visit. But the sweetness has especially come because the few times I’ve returned to visit that community over the years I have been able to celebrate how it has been transformed by some more Christians moving into the neighborhood, investing in the kids, and providing neighborly care.
The neighborhood in Boston was much tougher. A bullet hit the side of our home, the insulation was weak and so the winters were quite cold, I got pulled over by police who wanted to see if I was running drugs to the suburbs, and it was geographically isolated from the rest of my community. When I moved out of that house into a better environment, a couple of days later my body broke out in shingles, which I interpret as a response to all the stress I had been under.
To be clear, I admire Christians who embrace poverty to love their neighbors.
Still, my attempt to replicate their faith was more miserable than joyful - and involved sacrifice that still wasn’t connected to a clear sense of loving others and making their lives better. Even though I lived in that neighborhood, it was hard to get traction in terms of building relationships there. (I was enrolled in seminary full-time and doing nearly full-time ministry). I pushed myself so hard to ‘serve the Lord’ that it wore me out.
One lesson I gained from this experience is that I first needed to experience myself as God’s beloved if I was going to order my life in a way that was sustainable, good, and aligned with God’s care for me.
Have you ever felt that you had to be miserable in order to be faithful to God? What got you to that place? What helped you move on from it?