The woman’s name was Florrie and five minutes with her changed the shape of my day, and perhaps my heart. Joe and I were on our way into Home Depot for the zillionth time to get some calking for our DIY kitchen remodel (next post, with pictures!). So, as I mentioned in my last blog, God has been training me in the art of presence, which means I am seeking to be attentive to everything he puts in my path, recognizing that there is purpose in all of it. When I saw this young disabled women standing outside the store with her sign asking for help, I pondered what that purpose might be. In the past I’ve either ignored these kinds of situations or given them money and gone my way, relieved to be rid of the guilt I felt at my own blessed life.
Speaking of guilt, after my last blog I heard from some of you, both encouraging me about what I saw as a failure to practice presence to its fullest, but also concerned that I was experiencing guilt that God never intended. I get that, I really do. I know what it is like to live a performance based journey with Jesus, and it is no fun.
But that all changed for me years ago when I really began to understand what grace entails, and the reality that God doesn’t need anything from me, and that whatever he calls me to do will not only be for his glory, but will always be for my joy.
The illustration that has helped me the most comes from John Piper in his now classic book, Desiring God. He tells of how the things God commands us to do are not a job description from an employer who depends on us to get the work done. Instead, they are a doctor’s prescription for our neediness, a means by which we can find the path of joy in our service, of health for our souls.
God brought this home to me several weeks ago when I did miss an opportunity to minister to a homeless man. In my prayer of examen the next morning I told the Lord I knew I’d failed and was sure he was disappointed in me. The Spirit spoke so clearly then: “Tricia I am not disappointed in you, I am disappointed for you.”
Those words gave me a new perspective on presence. God wants so much more for each of us. Simply put, being attentive to the whispers of the Spirit as we go about our days, listening for direction and obeying God’s guidance, is all for our own joy. And when we fail to listen, we are the ones who miss out. Yes, obedience glorifies God, but only fully and completely when we rely on his grace and find our delight in doing so.
These things were on my heart as I stopped to talk with Florrie that day. In her very stilted English, she told me she was a refugee from Romania and had been here ten months. She has two small children, lives with a friend, and has been unable to find any work, even though she would love to do some sewing. But here’s the thing: over and over Florrie stopped her story to say thank you to me for listening, her eyes filling up with tears. I found myself overwhelmed with emotion and asked if I could pray for her. We held hands, and I prayed as we both began to cry and then she couldn’t stop hugging me. And although I did give her some money, in the end, she gave me so much more for in that moment of being present with Florrie, I experienced the heart of Jesus. In fact, according to Christ’s own words, I actually ministered to him. Even now I am undone by the wonder of that.
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Author of 7 books and a professor for Fuller Theological Seminary, Tricia specializes in helping others experience God’s presence through practicing soul-care.