Every other week at The High Calling, our community editors share details of an upcoming theme, and they invite readers to write a post and link it up at The High Calling. The following week, our community editors feature of few of these articles on The High Calling’s home page, giving those featured writers an opportunity to work with an editor, and to have their content reach a broader (more than 125K subscribers and followers!) audience. This week, the theme is Working for Free, and here’s my submission (my submission is written as a devotional, but you can write in any style that feels right to you). To learn more about writing in community with The High Calling network, just click here.
Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. Colossians 3:22-25, MSG
I can already hear you asking me, “Work for free? Why would I want to do that?” Or, maybe more importantly, you might be saying, “I can’t afford to work for free!”
I get it.
We’ve all got obligations. Mouths to feed, bills to pay, homes to maintain, and ministries to support. We need money coming in to meet the demands. We need fair compensation for an honest days’ labor. I understand. And, I’m not really suggesting we go to our bosses or clients and say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve been thinking, and I really don’t need you to pay me for the work I do around here. I’m good.”
I think there may actually be a couple of ways to work for free, and not getting paid is just one of them. This passage from Colossians 3 gives insight into a few different ways we can work for free:
- Work from the heart for your real Master, for God. When it comes right down to it, even the compensation we receive for the work we do is a gift from God. In fact, it’s God who provides us with the skills and talents necessary to complete a task. Ultimately, the money we make is a gift from God, to be used as a tool for serving God, putting food on the table, and blessing others. When we approach money with an open hand instead of a tight grip—not hoarding it, and, instead, being willing to share it when a need arises—it’s easier to remember for whom we’re really working.
- Be confident you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. It’s true what they say—you can’t take it with you. No matter how much treasure we store up here on earth, none of it will follow us to heaven. In God’s economy, faith, hope, and love are the currency of the day, and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13). When we view earthly wealth from this perspective, our monetary compensation pales in comparison to what God has in store for us.
- Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work. Doing good work really can be its own reward, making compensation the cherry on top. God wants us to take pride in the work we do, just as he did during the creation of the world, stepping back to view his work and declaring it all “good.” Satisfaction in a job well done provides a deep sense of fulfillment, and God delights in our good work, right along with us.
It’s true: we need money to make ends meet. But when we let money be the driving force behind the work we do, we often become a servant to our work and we forget the truth that God is our true Lord and Master. He has said he won’t put anything heavy or ill-fitting on us, and he’s uniquely designed us for the work we’ve been given. He takes joy when we find freedom in our work and offers freedom from simply working for a paycheck at the end of the day.
Questions for reflection:
- What kind of boss do you think God is? What does it mean to work from your heart?
- Do you remember the story in Luke, chapter 12 about the guy who had so much stuff he wanted to build a bigger barn? What’s your takeaway from that story?
- When was the last time you worked on a project and really felt proud with the results? What does it feel like when you consider God rejoicing over that project, along with you?
Dear God, thank you so much for giving me the skills and talents to do good work. Thank you for the work you’ve given me, and for the way you provide for me through that work. Help me to remember the importance of faith, hope, and love and to be a good steward of the earthly and heavenly treasures you provide. Amen.
Lisa-Jo Baker is our fearless leader at (in)courage. She is the author of a beautiful, new book, Surprised By Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom. She is wife to Peter, and she’s the mother of two amazing boys and one precious little girl. Do you participate in The Sunday Community (soon to be Give Me Grace)? Well, you can thank Lisa-Jo for that. She is my friend.
I really wanted to sit in my backyard for this interview, but it was raining on the day we recorded this conversation. I wanted to sit in my backyard (instead of in my house, with H closing the door on us to make sure he didn’t disturb us—haha!) because that’s where I was when I read Lisa-Jo’s book from cover to cover.
I wish I could find the right words to convey the experience of reading this book. It will forever be one of my favorites. It’s a classic. You will read it, and you will buy it for your girlfriends and for your daughters and for your mother and for your next door neighbor’s niece. You will return to this book, and you will find a melody swelling up in your soul.
It is beautiful. I cannot say it enough.
I think it’s good when a person knows her strengths and weaknesses. And what I know, is that I am not the best gift-giver. Because of that, I am a late gift-giver. I am paralyzed by the thought of picking out just the right gift for my family and friends. I know good gift-givers. I know people who begin their Christmas shopping in July. Growing up, my pastor’s wife—bless her heart—had a closet full of gifts, just in case. She was always prepared with exactly the right gift in every situation. Fast forward to today, where you find me apologizing to our parishioners, for setting such a bad example as their pastor’s wife.
This is why I am so grateful for Laura Brown’s book, Everything That Makes You Mom. If you are a mom, or you have a mom, or you know a mom, this book is for you. And for her. The other day, Laura and I sat down together, via Google+ Hangouts, and we talked about this book, and about Laura’s mom, and about the process of writing. Take a few minutes to watch, and then click through the links below to learn more about Laura, and to find out where you can get a copy of her book, just in time for Mother’s Day.
Perfect, right? Here’s where you can grab a copy of the book for yourself, and for the moms in your life:
Do you have a special memory of your mom, or of being a mom, or a woman who has been like a mom to you? Would you please share in the comments?
On a different note, I want you to know I’ve been thinking about those girls, kidnapped from their school in Nigeria, and I’ve been wondering how I can help raise awareness, especially with Mother’s Day right around the corner. My plan is not a big thing, but it’s something, and I feel the need to do something. I hope you’ll check back later this week, for all the details, and to see how you can participate.
Bear with me. I know. This is the second Spiritual Misfit post in two days, and I hardly ever post anything two days in a row. But, in case you don’t know, I’m really excited about this book. Yesterday, as you know, Michelle and I had (what turned out to be) brunch together. What you don’t know is, after brunch, we each went home, did a little bit of work in our respective houses, and then logged on to Google+ Hangouts to talk about the book.
Let me warn you—my laugh gets a little out of hand in this conversation. But, Michelle holds down the fort with her professional demeanor and insightful answers. I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this Year of All the Books! Have fun watching this interview, and hit the mute button when it seems I may be getting ready to laugh, again.
No matter how hard we try not to be, we are — each of us — storytellers. You don’t have to have your name on the New York Times bestseller list. You don’t need a blog or a web site. A stack of journals by your bed, and boxes more in your basement? Not required. No need to preach a sermon every Sunday.
Honestly. None of that is what makes us storytellers.
Every single, ordinary, regular, no-surprise-to-us life is, in reality, a uniquely beautiful, breathtakingly spectacular, fabulously stunning story. There will never be another one like it. Not ever.
Together, H and I have painted many rooms. H is better at it than I. I’m always in a hurry to see the finished product. I load up the paint roller and slide it across the wall, then I bring in the furniture and hang the curtains and add a little mood lighting. I call H in to stand next to me while we admire my work, and he says, “Holiday.”
“Holiday?” I asked, the first time he said it.
“Yep,” he answered, pointing to a spot on the wall. I walked over to take a closer look.
“What do you mean, holiday?”
“Well,” he said. “See that spot right there? You didn’t load up your paint roller with enough paint. Looks like the roller had a spot where there wasn’t any paint on it at all. No paint on the roller means no paint on the wall. See? Right here.”
I leaned in and, sure enough, there was a spot where the old paint color bled through the new. “Yeah. I see it. But why are you calling it a holiday?”
“Because it’s like the paint went on vacation. Took a break. Opted out. Went on holiday. There’s nothing there. You missed a spot.”
“Be yourself,” a wise preacher once said to my husband. It was years ago, at the very beginning of H’s ministry. “When you stand in the pulpit, be yourself.”
A lot of H’s seminary classmates were trying to sound like preachers they admired. They copied the cadence and the stance and the rhythms of the seasoned preachers who’d gone before them. But this wise preacher cautioned my husband against that practice.
“If, when you stand in the pulpit, you’re trying to be like someone else, the pulpit is empty,” the wise preacher said. “The person you’re trying to be isn’t there, and neither are you. So, the pulpit is empty.”
“You can’t help but tell your story,” H says to me from time to time. He says it to me when I’m staring down a deadline, or when I’m trying to get ready to speak at a conference or a retreat or to a congregation. I begin to panic, because I know I’m not going to sound like so-and-so, and what can I say that hasn’t already been said, and what made me ever think I could do this anyway? That person has more talent. And that other person has a bigger audience. And she’s got a fabulous family and a beautiful body and lovely hair and skin and nails. And what have I got?
I try to conjure up a new story to tell, or a witty sense of humor, or a higher IQ, or a deeper theological framework, and all of it falls flat. Sometimes, I actually bring the flat me to the page, or to the screen, or to the microphone, and everyone in the audience thinks to themselves, “Holiday.”
Worse yet, sometimes I bring flat, holiday me to my marriage, my friendships, my family.
I do it because I’m afraid of my own story. I’m afraid it’s not good enough. Not embellished enough. Not captivating enough. So, I stare at the blank screen, or the conference speaker lineup, and the stacks of amazing books written by amazing writers who are not me and I say (although it sounds more like a wail, or a whine) to H, “I can’t do this! I don’t know what to say! I don’t have enough information! I don’t have the right words!”
And H, unfazed, passes by the open door of my office on his way to watch a football game or take the dog outside and says, “You can’t help but tell your story. That’s all they’re looking for.” That man is right more times than he’s not.
It’s really all anyone is looking for. Whether you have a blog, a best-selling book, a jam-packed speaking schedule or not. Those aren’t the things that matter, anyway. All we really need from one another — in our marriages, our friendships, our families — is each uniquely beautiful, breathtakingly spectacular, fabulously stunning story. No holidays. No empty pulpits.
There will never be another story like yours. Not ever. We want that one.
Just a few minutes after 3 am, I reached out for you.
The fingertips of my right hand found your t-shirt and I slid my right hand between your ribs and the mattress. Your lungs expanded for one, slow, even breath, filling my lifeline. I rolled to my right side and pulled up closer, fitting my ribs to yours, and my belly to the small of your back. I wrapped my left arm around your torso, and slid my hand under the bend of your left elbow. The palm of my left hand found the inside of your right forearm, where it was warm.
You hardly moved; just a slight increase of pressure from your left elbow where I’d weaved my arm through yours.
Sorry to come back from one month away with all these words. And, with these particular words:
People often ask me what I do. “I’m a writer,” I tell them.
“Really?” they ask. And then, “What do you write?”
“I write about faith, and about race in the American church. Stuff like that.”
Sometimes, that’s the end of the conversation. But sometimes, people want to know more. They ask questions, or begin a dialogue, and sometimes they come around to, “So, how did you get started?”
That’s when I tell them I’ve always written. Mostly in journals. But, one day, a co-worker suggested I might like blogging, so I gave it a try. As blogging goes, one link led to another, and then another, and before I knew it, I had established new friendships and developed a following of sorts. Then, God opened some doors, and now I serve part-time as the managing editor for The High Calling, while writing and speaking and listening to disco music in my spare time.
Quickly into the whole blogging scene, I developed a fondness for a few specific (at first I typed “notable” — hold that thought) bloggers. Probably the same people you admire. I read every single one of their posts and dreamed of the day I could be like them. I followed them on Instagram, liked them on Facebook, and tweeted their posts with wild abandon. With every Facebook like, every little heart turned red on Instagram, and every re-tweet, I was building in my head an unsolicited pedestal for those bloggers.
Early on, H tried to gently make course corrections, as he clearly saw me headed for the abyss (wise man that he is). I’d have comments on my post which I essentially brushed aside choosing instead (I’m ashamed to admit) to dance around the family room in my socks when one of those bloggers I admired left a few simple words in my comment box. I know. Not good. It gets worse before it gets better.
“What’s going on?” my husband would ask.
“Look!” I’d practically squeal, pointing at the computer screen. “Look who left me a comment!”
“Who?” my husband would ask.
I’d resist the urge to grab him by the back of the head and press his face to the display. Instead, I’d trace over the name of said blogger with my finger and say her name. And then…”She’s a big wig!” If I raised my hand to receive his high-five in celebration, he surely left me hanging.
“Big wig?” he’d ask. “Really?”
“YES! Absolutely yes!” I’d answer without hesitating.
H would raise his eyebrow at me. Literally. Then, he’d say, “What do you think she’d say if she knew you were calling her a big wig?” Clearly, this man does not understand blogging, I’d think to myself.
“Oh,” I’d answer with a wave of my hand, “she knows she’s a big wig.”
Eventually, I found myself dropping names. (If there is one thing I find very difficult to stomach, it’s a name dropper. You know how people say the characteristic that bugs you most in other people is the very characteristic you hate in yourself? It’s true.) I’d mention my “connection” with so-and-so in casual dinner conversation, or I’d talk about a book I’d just read by a particular author and follow up by saying, “We’re friends on Facebook.”
In blogging, there is a very crafty way to be a name dropper. It’s when I cleverly link to a post of a blogger I admire and then type the words, “My friend [insert name of big wig].” By adding those two little words, “my” and “friend” I have instantly elevated myself into the inner circle of that specific person, without her even knowing it. And, I’ve effectively left my readers out of the inner circle. I have made myself a big wig by first building her up, and then by telling you she’s my friend. Tricky huh?
Here’s the thing. She might really be my friend. But, let’s think for a minute about what we do here: As a Christian who writes, I write as part of the Body of Christ. And, as far as I can tell, the phrase “Christian celebrity” is an oxymoron.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Phillippians 2:5-8, MSG)
If we’re going to start talking about Christian celebrities, let’s begin and end with Jesus. And if Jesus is the standard, let’s be sure we don’t skip over the humbling process; the selfless, obedient life; and the worst kind of death.
There are no big wigs here. Insisting on a playing field where the ground is not level is just one way to feed the machine and to build up walls that divide us. If God gives us the gift of writing it’s to be used for his purposes only.
We create big wigs and celebrities and then we beg them to notice us because, if they notice us, we are someone, right? I need them to be notable (and not merely specific), so I can be notable by association. I know publishers want you to tell them about your followers and your Klout and your subscribers and your speaking engagements and I totally understand that. Wait. Let me be honest. I partially understand that. But, business cannot trump truth, and friendship should not be a commodity.
Remember Gideon? Remember how God whittled Gideon’s army down to three hundred men who had no place to go and who happened to drink water from their cupped hands instead of directly from the stream? God’s not worried about numbers.
Remember Moses? Moses reminded God that he was no public speaker, and that he didn’t exactly have the best reputation among the Israelites or those in power. But God wasn’t concerned about Moses’ popularity. Or mine. Or yours.
Remember Rahab? A prostitute in the lineage of Jesus. Yeah. God’s not sidelined by your past or your story. He redeems it all.
We know this in our heads and our hearts, but we — okay, me — I live as if I’ve never heard a sermon about my standing in Christ Jesus. I scramble after likes and re-tweets and comments like a person who has never had her heart washed over in a tidal wave of grace and mercy. I read about the love of God and then walk out the door, forgetting what I look like, even though I have a mirror in my hand. Good grief! For God so loved the world…
The other day I was reminded this whole blogging world is sub-culture. Most of the world has no clue about these people whose comments I covet. Mothers around the world are searching for clean water for their children, and praying they don’t have to sell one of those children into slavery in order to put a meal on the table for the rest. And if I could just get my head screwed on correctly, I might wake up and understand God has given me a gift and a space with its own built-in megaphone to shine a bit of light in the dark places of this planet that spins on its axis in this universe God’s entrusted to us.
The enemy would have us clamoring for celebrity and he would fool us into thinking we can put the title “Christian” in front of it to make it holy. Jesus is the one and only celebrity, and he showed us how celebrity is done. Us? Well, we are the Body of Christ.
So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. (Romans 12:5-6, MSG)
Okay. I’ll stop here. I could go on and on, I guess. That’s what happens with one month off.
I think about that question H used to ask me so long ago, “What do you think she’d say if she knew you were calling her a big wig?” and I want to hide under the covers for at least a year. He was right. Again.
How about you? Do you have all the thoughts about these things, too? Or do you see it differently?
“I don’t know how they do it,” she said. We were having coffee — Vanessa, Michelle, and me — in the exact coffee shop where Michelle and I first met in real life. Of course, we were talking about writing. And about writers we admire. They’re the ones who stick their necks out, take a stand, state their case. They probably have days where it overwhelms them, we reasoned. We didn’t doubt that sometimes they probably wonder if it’s worth it. But still. They’re passionate, and willing to withstand the criticism in order to get the word out, and to encourage people to think just a bit differently.
I leaned in with my arms on the table and told my friends I’ve received some criticism over the past few weeks. It’s made me wonder if I’ve crossed the line. If I should tone it down a bit. If these #GoingThere conversations are doing more harm than good. And how do you know when criticism is valid, and when it isn’t?
Of course, my friends assured me I hadn’t crossed the line. They told me the conversation is important, and encouraged me to keep on keeping on. But still, I wondered, how do you know when to listen to the criticism?
After Michelle, Vanessa, and I had hugged and parted ways, I checked my phone and saw I’d missed a call from my daughter. When I called her back, she was all gushy with emotion. “Mom!” she said. “Why did I not know about Brené Brown?”
My daughter was attending The Global Leadership Summit, and that morning, Brené Brown had been the speaker. “Ah!” I answered! “Isn’t she amazing?”
“Oh my gosh, mom!” my daughter replied. “Amazing! Really amazing! I need to be her friend!”
“What did she talk about? Being vulnerable?”
“Yes. And shame. And mom, she talked about criticism.”
“Really?” I asked, and I was going to tell my daughter that I’d just been talking with some friends about criticism, but there was no interrupting my daughter’s enthusiasm.
And here, I’m going to tell you, in my own words, what my daughter says Brené Brown told that group of leaders because it keeps coming back to me, and because I think that maybe you might need to hear it just as much I did. You’ll have to keep in mind that this information is third hand — I wasn’t there, and I have only my daughter’s interpretation of what she heard. I credit Brené Brown for this insight, while offering my apologies if I’ve misrepresented her:
Brené Brown said that when you go into the arena, you can expect to get dirty. Your clothes get torn. Your knuckles get scraped. You get the wind knocked out of you. You might even break a rib or two. And Brené Brown decided that when it comes to criticism, she’s only going to listen to it if it comes from other people who are in the arena with her. Others who know what it’s like to get knocked down so hard you see stars circling overhead. She’s going to value the criticism coming from others in the arena, over and above the criticism coming from the people in the stands, eating their popcorn and Twizzlers and shouting out their armchair quarterback epithets.
The people in the arena? They give advice and offer constructive criticism based on their own arena experiences. They say things like, “You might want to try a different stance,” or “Watch out for that guy behind you,” or “Here! You can borrow my shield!” The people in the stands? They say things like, well, you know the kinds of things they say. And rarely do they say, “Hey, how can I get in there with you? How can I help?”
I think I know you, and I think the last thing you want to do is offend someone. Me too. But sometimes, someone tells you something that makes it clear you’ll never see eye-to-eye on this particular thing. I guess this advice about the arena helped me to realize that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree. Not even all of the people in the arena will agree. But the advice they offer is likely to be more constructive, more helpful, more fitting for the long run.
What about you? How do you handle criticism?”
It happens nearly every time I’m in a crowd. The Jazz Festival downtown, a train platform, a concert or conference in a massive arena. When walking through crowds at the airport in Chicago, or San Antonio, or Denver, or New York, or wherever it is my travels have taken me I hear myself think, “All of these people…all of these thousands of people, and I’ve never met a single one.” If my husband is with me, I say it out loud.
“What?” he asks me, trying to maneuver his roller bag through the sea of feet in pumps and platform shoes and patent-leather Stacy Adams or plain old flip-flops. Everyone. Going somewhere…