I found myself holding back tears during our worship service at church this week. The music was wonderful, but that’s not why I had to work to push down the lump in my throat. Looking around, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was bringing to our fellowship to help bring growth. What do I do to contribute to the local outreach, our discipleship ministries, or the day in and day out functions of the church? For someone like me who has been involved in ministries for most of my life, the answer to those questions shook me to the core: Nothing. You’re not needed.
For many of us, we find our value and worth in what we contribute to the lives of those around us. Nothing makes me feel more fulfilled than pouring my time, effort, talent and resources into a worthy cause. My passion began when volunteering as a Sunday School helper from a very young age, then babysitting friends’ children, then joining the youth Worship Team and volunteering at youth ministries. By high school, I was traveling full-time with my family’s ministry, speaking, singing and writing as well as making friends all over the country who I continued to keep in touch with. I found my purpose and fulfillment in continually pouring into others, finding new ways to serve, and always staying busy with a new mission or project. After my first year of college, I served for a year with AmeriCorps as Assistant Director of a local after school care program for low-income children. Throughout our marriage, regardless of our location, I have found a niche to get involved in our church, being worship, women’s or children’s ministries.
I’m not listing out my resume to get a virtual pat on the back, but to show the stark contrast between my WHOLE LIFE and the last several months. About a year ago, just a few weeks before the birth of our third child, I began the transition out of directing two large ministries at our church. At the time I didn’t feel as though I had any choice. I loved both ministries, but it was unrealistic to think that I could continue giving the same amount of attention to two ministries while welcoming a new baby, homeschooling, moving, and finding time occasionally to shower. So I passed the torch, and for several lightening-quick months, I found myself thankful and relieved to not be in charge of anything outside of my own little world.
The last several weeks, however, I’ve begun feeling that familiar draw, that longing for something new and exciting that I can sink my teeth into, that I’ve had countless times before. This time, though, instead of it being met with a ready desire to roll up my sleeves and get started, I’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed even considering the possibility of taking on something new. With just a few months before Baby #4 arrives (which, by the way, will give us two kiddos under 15 months), another move on the way and a busy daily schedule to boot, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m not ready to take on something new. So why do I feel like I should? Like I’m missing something?
Why do I need to be needed?
In my friendships, my marriage, my working relationships – I’ve always found the balance between needing to be needed and enjoying the give and take. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve at least been able to recognize the need for it. So why doesn’t it carry over to my work? Could it be, perhaps, that I depend far too much on what I do as defining my worth, instead of who I am? It’s definitely a possibility.
So there I am, biting back tears, feeling inadequate, unworthy and unneeded, looking around my precious church family and feeling as though, compared to where I was just a year before, I have failed. I’m not carrying my share of the load, I’m not contributing to the Body’s growth in any way, and I have nothing to offer but squirming kids and a rushed ‘hello’ as I run off to chase a getaway. And speaking of squirming kids, that was the moment that I realized my energetic toddler was done being as calm and quiet as he could possibly be, and it was time to move on to the nursery and get the wiggles out. As we made our way out, I watched him walk along cheerfully, blissfuly, and envied him.
I’m not needed here.
As I got to the nursery, I was surprised to find a faithful nursery volunteer come right in behind me; she had seen me leave and rushed to come out to open up the nursery. Despite my promise that I was happy to hang out with my own kid until the nursery opened, she replied with a sweet smile, saying, “I know, but sometimes mamas need to go back in and just enjoy the worship.” She blessed me so, I felt so loved and taken care of, like her words had wrapped me up in a warm hug. She never could have known how much I needed to to hear that. As I made my way back down the hall, the Lord spoke so clearly to me something I have continued to ponder for days:
You might not be needed in this season, but there are people here that you need. It’s ok to be the one that needs, not the one that’s needed.
What a revelation, especially to me, someone who has never once considered that there was any other option than to be the one serving. It’s ok to not be needed. It’s ok to be in need. We all travel through seasons of life, many of which demand different things from our time and attention. What a relief to finally realize I’m not failing. Being in need is a reality, not a curse or a handicap. Especially for those of us who find our worth in our performance, this is an invaluable lesson. If I need to be able to receive uninhibited love from my Savior, both unearned and undeserved, it makes sense that the next logical step in my journey would be learning how to accept that kind of love from the Body of Christ. It is a bit of a humbling lesson, but so freeing!
I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to the concept of the Iceberg Principle. Roughly 90% of the iceberg is submerged underwater, out of view. That leaves merely 10% afloat on the water, the part of the iceberg you actually see. In the most basic terms, what you don’t see greatly outweighs what you do see. The same is true in our lives, especially in those times when we don’t feel needed. It’s so easy to believe that the 10% people do see is worthless, giving no true value to our lives or situation. What we tend to forget, however, is that without the hidden 90%, there would be no 10%. Perhaps all people see when my sweet/crazy family and I fall into church is the unbrushed hair, the socks that don’t match, the breakfast that never got wiped away, or the loudly exaggerated whispers promising to be quiet as they wriggle out of their seats to catch the pen they dropped… on purpose. But what they don’t see are the endless hours of love and devotion continually being poured into each individual life. The sacrifice in the long nights or early mornings; the prayers on their behalf that are prayed incessantly. A mother’s love, worries, care and patience is a 90% to be proud of, even if it’s unseen. Although I might prefer the 10% being leading the worship team or directing a women’s ministry, I’ve come to appreciate the 10% be keeping all of the little people alive, getting them all to church, and being able to smile my way through it. There is peace here. There is purpose here. I hope you can join me!
Where are you right now in your journey? Needed too much? Maybe not quite enough? Are you somewhere in the middle, a somewhat balanced season? Or are you in my boat: perhaps needed but with nothing to give, and in an overwhelming place of need yourself? Needs look different from one person to another. My need to have someone love and care for my kids so I could go enjoy a few precious moments alone was overwhelming this week. However, another might have need for a hug, a meal or simply a conversation that does not include a reference to using the potty. Wherever you are, knowing that there is no failure in being on one side versus the other has helped my perspective so much. I pray it helps you, as well! Stay strong, mama, no matter what season you’re in. We all take turns at this anyway, so if it’s not you today it will be at some point. Show love and compassion and freely accept it. Loving each other like Christ loves us is one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive on this earth. Let’s not take it for granted!