I had a tough week at work last week. I work as a substitute teacher, so I can’t tell you any details. But let’s just say every day I came home had a good cry and then prayed myself up. After crying and praying for a while I would plan with hope for the new day, only to come the next day and cry some more.
It has been a long time since I had a work week when I felt that inadequate, that overwhelmed, and that deeply sad.
When all was said and done and I was processing the week that felt like it defeated me, I thought back to my very first tough week on the job.
I was serving as a camp counselor during a summer in college. It was the week we were to have senior high campers and at first, I was really looking forward to it. These kids were old enough to really dig-in, not only to our physical challenges but issues of faith and Scripture as well.
What I did not see coming was after we provided a safe place for these kids to dig into issues of faith and life, all kinds of stories would come out. Stories from a kid who had begun to abuse alcohol and wasn’t sure how to stop. Stories of a kid whose father lived angry, so angry that sometimes he beat his son. Stories of a kid who had been date raped earlier in the summer and was now starting to contemplate suicide. And there were more stories. Every kid had a story of brokenness of some kind.
As my 20-year-old self-tried to hold these stories in my young hands, I was quickly overwhelmed. My co-counselor and I sought help from camp staff on the matters that involved folks hurting themselves or someone else. But otherwise, I had no idea what to do. No idea how to fix this brokenness that was breaking my own heart.
I cried a lot. I prayed a lot.
Mostly I just sat with the kids in their brokenness and tried somehow to show them that I loved them.
That God loved them.
It didn’t seem enough as I knew they would go back to their day to day lives and the brokenness would still be there. Nothing I could do or say would magically take it away.
Last week as I faced this same dilemma of facing a brokenness I could not fix, I remembered some words I was gifted with in seminary.
These words by Archbishop Oscar Romero:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Romero’s words reminded me that I don’t have to fix the brokenness. There is another who was sent to do that. I just have to show up, do my best, and trust that God’s grace and work will continue way beyond my humble efforts.
Maybe you are facing some brokenness that cannot be fixed as well?
- Maybe you are watching a teenage or young adult child make all the wrong choices.
- Maybe you are watching a parent die a slow, hard death.
- Maybe you have loved ones that struggle with addiction, mental health issues, or other chronic illnesses.
In your tears and in your prayers as you struggle with your inability to fix the brokenness around you, remember:
We are not asked to fix the brokenness of those around us.
We are only asked to do our part.
To sit with them in their difficulty.
To love them.
To pray for them.
To remind them they are not alone.
May God’s strength and love be with you as you tend to the broken ones in this world. And may you have hope in the long future of God’s grace working in this broken but beautiful world.