When Ministry Wounds You

One year ago, I was getting ready to leave a ministry where I had worked for a year. I was tired, often discouraged, ready to leave, and yet aware that leaving would probably break my heart. When I arrived home, being around people was the last thing I felt like doing. I literally hid in my room for pretty much a month, only talking to my family, one or two select friends, and a few family friends at church.

(Let me take a minute to break in and say that I am far from an expert on what it means to work in ministry full-time. I was there for a year-long commitment and knew that I would probably be leaving at the end. To all those who work in ministry day-in day-out all of their lives, you are amazing and brave and far stronger than I am. I am in awe of you and how you allow God to work through you.)

My draw to that particular ministry (and maybe ministry in general) had begun during a spring break trip there my junior year of college. It was full of ups and downs and crazy schedules, but I have a vivid memory from partway through the week when one of the little girls we were working with started talking to me. She had been quiet as a mouse up to that point, barely even talking to her friends or the teacher in class, so her happy chatter surprised and delighted me. I played with her through every recess for the rest of the week and left with a new awareness of how ministry is both an act of giving and receiving.

The path to working there opened up in small, sometimes clear, sometimes less so, steps. First, it was another spring break trip there, then a summer internship, and finally a year-long commitment. Still, at every step, I felt God prompting me forward. It was one of the clearest examples I’ve experienced of Isaiah 30:21—“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Yet once I was submerged in the ins and outs of daily ministry, I became overwhelmed by how much it hurt. I was working daily with a variety of children and adults who all had one thing in common – they were human. And humans have a way of hurting each other.

I tried to be patient, to look for light in the darkness, to find joy in God and what He was teaching me. And sometimes I succeeded. There were many good moments, as I watched struggling students succeed at school, grow in their friendships, and make new realizations about Jesus. But there were a number of other moments when I felt rejected, ignored, or utterly incapable of making a positive influence.

I think that’s why it was so hard for me to start reaching out to other people once I returned home. My family was safe. My old friends were safe. But opening myself up to new people and relationships was hard. When new opportunities for ministry began rising to the surface, I had a hard time knowing what to do. God had confirmed a calling to work with kids enough times in the past that I knew I couldn’t ignore it, but beginning again right away scared me.

Then I began working through a Bible study written by Beth Moore called Mercy Triumphs, based on the book of James. In one of the early video sessions, she talked about how James is often associated with the faith/works debate. But, she said, God isn’t going to give you a beating over your obedience. You’re going to get your joy back.

That line sank in deep, tasting like a breath of fresh air. You’re going to get your joy back. I felt the clenched fist around my heart ease its grip.

So I started opening myself up again. I led a Bible study with my little sister and her friends and found myself infected by their silliness and laughter. I taught Sunday school and remembered my love for the crazy questions eight-year-olds come up with. I started helping with an after-school program at my church and was once again swept up in the messy ups and downs of dealing with people.

This past Tuesday was one of those messy days at after-school. Several kids were upset with one another for various reasons, and I spent a long time talking through issues with them. But then out of the blue, one of the boys asked his friend if he could pray with him. A couple more boys joined them, and they sat on the steps, bowed their heads, and prayed earnestly for God to help them with their problems.

I was pretty close to crying (and just thinking about it kind of makes me teary again). But these were the best kind of tears – the really, truly joyful kind. Oh, right, I realized. This is why I love doing this.

Since then, I’ve been thinking. Last year, I felt wounded. But I don’t think that’s all bad. I read Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning a few months ago and found this quote: “To think that the natural and proper state is to be without wounds is an illusion. Those who wear bulletproof vests protecting themselves from failure, shipwreck, and heartbreak will never know what love is. The unwounded life bears no resemblance to the Rabbi.”

And I believe that’s true. If anyone bore wounds from ministry, it was Jesus. Yet, “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” If we are healed by His wounds, might He not use our wounds to heal others?

For anyone reading this who serves on a regular basis or who works in part-time or full-time ministry, this is my prayer for you: May your wounds no longer be a source of shame or pain, but may Jesus use them to bring healing to those around you. And in your obedience to Him, may you find complete peace and joy.

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