Monday, July 11, 2011

Perfect Ministry

Yesterday in Meeting for Worship, someone spoke and gave perfect ministry.

He spoke of his own journey with spoken ministry.  He said that he finds himself speaking a lot in Meeting when he worships with inmates at a nearby prison.  He feels that they find some spoken ministry helpful.  Usually in life, he said, he finds he wants to stay in the background, trusting others to step forward into more visible roles.  But this experience in the prison ministry, of feeling responsible for ministering to others, has brought out something in his soul -- he speaks out more in life in general, and in our Meeting, and he has been writing and having his writings published.  "I know that preparing heart and mind does not mean that we should specifically plan to speak in Meeting, or plan not to speak.  But we can get into habits of silence in Meeting," he said, in conclusion, grateful that he had pushed himself out of his own comfort zone and has come into a new way of experiencing Meeting, and ministry, and life.

This message really spoke to my condition.

I felt called out and criticized myself, but felt joyful about that rather than ashamed.  I thought, "that message was for me, and he is right -- I have stepped back in life, I have fallen silent, and this silence has now turned into a bad habit.  I need to push myself, even at risk of potentially getting it wrong sometimes.  I have ideas, but my not acting on them is not virtuous humility -- it is a habit of fear."

What amazed me was how joyful and released I felt.

Often, criticism makes me feel bad.  I can get beyond feeling bad and still perceive the value of justly-earned criticism.  But I paused to reflect on why I didn't at all feel bad this time.  In part, it was the gentle, humble spirit of this Friend's ministry.  He spoke out of his own personal experience, from such authenticity that it presented a message of value to all of us.  He never once suggested that he was criticizing any of us.  In fact, I am sure he was not.  He was simply sharing a realization so powerful and liberating for himself that he he felt moved to share it.  He was not at all presuming to know what God wanted from any of us.  I think he genuinely likes all of us and appreciates exactly what we each give, never asking for anything other than what we already offer, but always accepting what we offer as gift.

So, his own humility kept the message pure and clear and easier to accept than if it had been laced with specific criticism toward any of us.  But the other part of why I received it so well was because it did speak a positive truth, not a negative one.  The way I heard it was not about how I had failed, but what I have yet to do.  It was a gentle invitation to step more fully into saying "yes" to life, to engaging life more directly, more "experimentally."

I call this Friend's ministry perfect because I think it genuinely reflected something important about God's love.  When God pushes us, it is never that God wants us to feel bad for the ways we fall short.  God wants us to live freely and creatively.  God's deepest hope for us is that we willingly respond to God's call, accepting the unutterable joy that this brings.


  1. Thank you friend, this is a good reminder, and a timely one.

  2. In my experience, many people need to hear something very much like this message. Thanks for your part in circulating it, and adding to it from your own experience.

  3. Thanks for sharing not only this Friend's ministry but also how it has been moving within you and exercising your spirit a bit.

    I too have found that as I have faithfully spoken up in one arena in my life, words have been Given to me in another arena as well.

    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up