I have this friend. I’ll call her “Rulie.” If you are a part of our Sunday school class at church and you’ve had a baby (or 4), lost a loved one, been through surgery, moved into a new home, flushed a goldfish down the toilet or experienced any other assorted traumatic life experience and the “bring you a meal” sign-up sheet goes around, you want “Rulie’s” name to be at the top. When she comes to your door you will be handed a meal that has been prepared with all the love and care that could possibly fit inside a covered dish. It will be specific to your family’s eating habits and will most likely include some kind of baked goods. And it will probably be presented to you in a gift bag tied with ribbon. There may even be fresh flowers tucked inside. You will feel like you won the “bring you a meal” lottery. And, frankly, you have! I should know. I’ve been on the receiving end of “Rulie’s” glorious feasts several times.
If, however, my name is second on the “bring you a meal” list, you will be getting a pizza. It may be frozen. Or it may be handed to you by a stranger wearing a colorful delivery uniform. Instead of feeling like you won the “bring you a meal” lottery, you may be wondering why you ever bothered mentioning you had thrown out your back. But, hey, at least I will have taken care of the tip!
Those who know me well might find this confession surprising. You see, I’m a hospitality girl. I love to welcome people into our home, prepare them meals and get to know them better while relaxing around the dinner table. I enjoy cooking and baking and decorating and hostessing. But preparing a meal and driving it across town is a different story. I have wrestled with this for years. When that sign-up sheet is handed to me at church, I can feel the eyes of every woman in the room watching to see if I will scribble my name across the top. It winds its way from one table to the next and I can almost feel it taunting me.
“Sign me, Vanessa! You know you’re supposed to. It’s what all good Christian girls do.”
So, I sign it. And all because of one word.
Because, after all, it’s the hallmark of the Christian woman.
I’m supposed to want to take people meals, right? It should make me feel good to bless them in this way, shouldn’t it? But it doesn’t. Instead, as soon as I’ve scribbled my name on that sign-up sheet I begin to stress out about it. What should I bring? What if they have allergies or they are vegetarians, and if they are vegetarians do I just bring them a big pot of beans? What if they don’t like what I would normally prepare for my own family so I’m going to have to make two different meals for the same night? What if it gets cold while I’m driving it across town? What if I don’t time it right and I end up sitting in traffic with my two hungry children who just watched me take a delicious meal to other people and now have to be grateful that I found some goldfish crackers at the bottom of my purse to tide them over until we get home.
This is usually the point at which the stress and guilt become almost unbearable. And this is why you will get a pizza (or maybe a frozen lasagna if I happened to have made it to WalMart that day) if I’m signed up to bring you a meal.
Recently, I was sitting in Sunday School and it was announced that the sign-up sheet would be coming around. As it began weaving its way around the room, taunting me, I could feel my heart racing and the anxiety begin to build. It got closer and closer until it came to the woman sitting right next to me. She scribbled her name across the top and handed it to me and I did something I’ve never done before.
I didn’t sign it.
I simply passed it onto the next person. Without making eye-contact, of course. It felt so naughty. And so liberating! I wanted to stand up and shout, “I’ve been set free!”
You see, I believe that we have all been uniquely equipped by God to love and serve one another.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”
What if God doesn’t even want me to take people meals? What if, in fact, it displeased him that I was scribbling my name on that sign-up sheet while inside I was feeling guilty and resentful? I know what you are going to say. “We can’t only do the things that are fun for us and make us feel good, right?” Well, yes and no. There are absolutely times when we must pitch in and help because there is a job to be done. Believe me, I’ve stacked chairs and set up tables and folded bulletins and rocked crying babies in the nursery and wiped runny noses with the best of them. There are things we do simply because we are part of a community. But God, in His infinite wisdom, also gave each of us ‘gifts’ which are so specific to our DNA that they not only allow us to bless others as we serve them, they also bless us in the process. Rather than making us feel depleted and resentful, they fill us up and spur us on to continue to extend ourselves to others.
“Rulie” loves bringing people meals! The fact that they are so artfully and beautifully prepared is really just a bonus. You see, Julie … I mean “Rulie” … is using her gift in all the right ways. As she is lovingly giving them their meal, she is also receiving the blessing that comes when we serve others in the way in which we were uniquely equipped by God.
There is no guilt. No resentment. No frustration and agonizing.
But, what if she felt pressured to host the ‘Welcome Reception’ with me each month? What if there was a “Welcome Reception” sign-up sheet that went around and she felt everyone watching to see if she would scribble her name across it. What if my friend who so lovingly prepares meals for people was forced to stand in front of 20-30 people and tell them all about our church and help them connect to our community? Well, because I happen to know “Rulie” very well, I can safely say that she would not like this at all. Hosting a ‘Welcome Reception’ isn’t “Rulie’s” gift. But it is mine. I love meeting these people each month. I love to welcome them to our church and help them to connect. I’m perfectly comfortable standing in front of a room of 20 or 30 (or more!) people and hopefully making each one feel special and valued.
I love to encourage, support and empathize.
It blesses me and it fills me up.
It’s taken years for me to realize that each time I scribble my name on the “bring you a meal” sign-up sheet, I might not actually be doing what God has called me to do. I might, in fact, be doing the opposite. There is no room for guilt in God’s kingdom.
Did you get that?
There is NO ROOM for guilt in God’s kingdom.
God is in the business of freedom! Freedom from being pressured by others to fit into a one-size-fits-all Christian woman’s mold. Freedom from feeling like bringing someone a casserole in a covered dish is about the closest thing to holiness this side of heaven.
I believe that the time I spend stressing and agonizing over bringing someone a meal could be better spent serving them in ways that are unique to my gifting. Now, this isn’t to say that I won’t ever bring you a meal. In fact, just recently one of my dearest friends had major surgery and I happily scribbled my name across that sign-up sheet.
But, well, she got a pizza.