Over ten years ago, when my big ones were little and my littles weren’t even born yet, we began making weekly visits to a local nursing home. We’d chat with residents in their rooms or join them in the activity center to play games (lots of Bingo!), do puzzles, or even exercise. When my kids were a bit older they performed monthly “variety shows” where everything they did was received with loud applause, huge smiles, and loads of encouragement.
Despite the fact that these visits were part of our rhythm and in no way considered a negotiable activity, my kids would still, on occasion, complain with a few moans and groans as we made the move from the car to the entrance of the home.
“I don’t feel like being here.”
My standard response has always been something like this:
“That’s ok. You don’t have to feel like it. We aren’t here for us; we are here for the folks who live here. We are here to share the love of Jesus.”
I’d march us in feeling proud of myself for providing my kids with such a valuable opportunity to practice sacrificial service. But then, more often than not, it would not end up not feeling like much of a sacrifice. We’d laugh at the stories we were told or marvel at the memories someone shared. We’d feel a warm glow from the compliments and kind words spoken to us. (For example, my boys could be in mismatched outfits with stains on the sleeves and holes in the knees and our dear friend, Jo, would still gush about how sharp they looked; Wow-wee! You look handsome! Those must be new clothes?)
In short, we’d walk out of there in better moods than when we went in. The joy we spread would make its way back to us, and this, in a strange way, would leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth. That’s not how this was supposed to go. We came here to bless, not to be blessed! It wasn’t supposed to be fun!
Wait…what? I was upset that my kids enjoyed time at a nursing home?
That thought process reveals a kink in my theology that suggests that a truly good work, one that is perfectly selfless, would be marked by misery from beginning to end. But is that true?
The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2). The joy that Jesus now experiences as He is “seated at the right hand of the Father” in no way negates the sacrificial goodness of His work on the cross. The joy that met Him on the other side simply and powerfully reveals to us the way of the Kingdom economy where death gives way to life, giving leads to receiving, and empty becomes full.
The fact that my kids ever come out of the nursing home saying, “That was fun!” attests to the fact that God has been working in their hearts, teaching them on a small scale the big truth that to die to self is to ignite a spark of life. To sacrifice a little is to gain a lot. To set aside what you think you want in the moment leaves you open to receive unexpected blessings including laughter, fun, and new friends.
Every time we reluctantly trudge into the nursing home but leave feeling blessed, we can praise God not just for any good that He did through us, but for the mighty work He did in us. When we offer our gifts and our time in the name of God’s love-even if we are lacking the feeling of love in the moment-God is able to use the offering to soften hearts, create connections, and infuse a burst of joy into the lives of all involved.
Apparently, I need to change my response to the pre-visit moans and groans:
“We are here because it will be good for our old folk friends AND it will be good for us. By God’s good design, this good work will be good for everyone.”
About the Author:
Rebecca LeVake is a Jesus-following, homeschooling mother of five who is determined to find the wonder in each season of the year and in each season of life. Her favorite places to seek wonder include the Bible, the great outdoors, and the beauty found in good stories, theater, and all sorts of artsy stuff.
Rebecca shares the wonder of God’s word as a Bible teacher and she loves to write and direct children’s musicals. She also writes regularly for storywarren.com. You can find her at Season of Wonder.
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