I’ve had the opportunity to do some volunteering this last year and a half. Some of that (actually, a big chunk of it) has been at the local hospice house. Chris teasingly accuses me of using that volunteer time to actually sneak off and get away from the boys and, in part, he’s right. I work at the reception desk one evening a month. It’s quiet there and calm. The house truly is like a house – big kitchen, cozy fireplace with plush sofas, and no smell of antiseptic or hospital. The reception area is in a little study off the main entry, and I sit there with the lamp on and bookshelves surrounding me, waiting for the phone to ring or visitors to stop by. Many times, all I do is offer a smile and a wave, but sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes it’s a listening ear or a box full of tissues. Overall, it’s very, very rewarding.
And then, there’s my other volunteer experience. Rewarding, too, but not quiet, serene, and calm. It’s one of those roles where I ended up asking myself, “What did I just jump into?”, but quickly found my feet and plowed on in. Yes, “plowed”, as in using a fair amount of force. I found myself faced with a really big task of registering around 100 women and divvying them (and their children) into 1 of 3 groups. Space and childcare was limited, and I did my best, but quickly found out that there were certain invisible lines that, if crossed, created a big brouhaha. And – whoops – I crossed one. Or two. Or five.
I learned a lot. Learned a lot about humility. About apologizing. About biting my tongue when I wanted to snap back at someone. About asking my husband to read (or listen to) an email to make extra, extra sure that the annoyance I felt wasn’t coming through in written word. I had to take a lot of deep breaths, had to ask God to open my eyes and remind me of my own imperfections before leaping all over someone else’s (ahem, Matthew 7:5 – gotta work on taking that plank of wood out of my own eye before attempting to remove the speck of sawdust from someone else’s). Never has that verse been ever-so-clear to me as it was while volunteering in women’s ministry.
Let me tell you, as women, we can see a lot of “specks” in each other’s eyes. I was all to quick to notice them. Pretty amazing when you consider the huge blinders that I had on about my own faults, but the heart sees what it wants to see. It takes the Holy Spirit to sometimes nudge us (or in my case, take me by the shoulders and shake me) into recognizing that we’re not perfect.
I had to remind myself that we all come from different places, different backgrounds. We all have different levels of what we can and cannot take. Moving to a new group seems like a small thing to me. But then, I’ve lived in Indiana, in Massachusetts, in New Zealand, in Oxford, and now in Virginia. I’m very used to picking up and dropping back down into a community where I don’t know anyone. I worked in the ER and had to learn how to get along quickly with complete strangers who were in a lot of pain (read: learn how to be likeable in tense situations).
I didn’t always like those moves or those situations, but I learned that the flexibility that came from those experiences was to my benefit. I have a pretty good awareness of what it feels like to be the new gal in a situation, which makes me that one person in a group who is going to try to talk to the quiet women sitting towards the back. Because I’ve been that quiet woman sitting in the back, or standing by herself at the tea and coffee dispenser wondering how to break into conversation with all of the people who look like they’re each others’ best friends.
I get kind of protective of that quiet woman standing off to herself, the one who doesn’t know anyone else, which is why when someone balks at the idea of opening herself up to a new situation, of moving, of perhaps growing, I want to bug my eyes out and ask, “Are you serious? You’re upset about this tiny thing? It’s such a small issue!”
To me, that is. It’s a small issue to me. Classic example of taking a gift (learning what it feels like to constantly be new and growing comfortable with talking to strangers) and turning it into a curse (getting annoyed with other people who don’t feel or act the same way).
But what may seem small and inconsequential and nothing to me can be a giant boulder to someone else.
I know that, too, also from personal experience.
I’ve had moments when I thought, “Well – I can’t go to such-and-such event today because the black pants that I wanted to wear are dirty. And the only pants that I have that are clean make me feel fat, and I can’t go out feeling fat. So instead, I’ll call, make an excuse, and stay home to do laundry. Because I just can’t put myself into a situation where I’m not comfortable.” I end up missing out on some great experience because I was worried about pants, for crying out loud.
Clearly, the pants are symbolic in this situation. But be it real pants or something else equally trivial, the thing is, I know what it feels like to be faced with a small change and sense that it’s going to ruin everything. I’ve known real fear at having to step outside my comfort zone. And I’ve known real blessings, too.
So, back to women’s ministry.
I’ve had to be reminded – time and again – that what seems like a tiny thing to me can be a big deal to someone else. My experiences are not the same as the woman sitting next to me. Stuff that causes me to freak out might cause her to roll her eyes and ask, “Pfht, really? You’re getting upset over that little issue? That’s nothing.”
Sigh. Little things can be big things. Small words can cause big hurts. Big hurts can make small issues seem insurmountable. And there’s nothing like getting involved in women’s ministry to open your eyes to the fact that there are a lot of ladies out there with big hurts. And we can be oh-so-good at hiding them and oh-so-quick to point out one another’s flaws.
“Lord, help me slow down and hold my tongue. Help me be quick to see the good in others and quick to offer sensitivity and compassion. When needed, feel free to send the Holy Spirit to put his hand over my mouth, such as those times when I’m about to say something critical or mean. And if necessary, have no qualms about sending along a friend to give me a reality check about how undeserving I am of Your mercy and grace. Amen.”