As we think about the communities that God has given us, the person to whom He has called us, the way each of us lives out our own journey from the ends of the earth to our little corners of it, we cannot forget that every community that we are given, we are also given into.
It is too easy for us to believe that our givenness is played out in some sort of circular hierarchy, where we become Christians and give ourselves to God, our God gives us to some community that He hopes for us to reach, and then, in so reaching, we give ourselves back to God. It's the idea of Jacob's ladder - that all that we do and all that we are is this up-and-down motion between heaven and earth.
It's also an understanding where we end up doing all of the work. We end up doing all of the ministry. We convince ourselves that the Christian life is meant to be lived in some kind of constant pouring out, where we give absolutely everything we've got to everyone we're given, and when we start to feel empty or start to have need, the only place we have to turn is to God. It's subtle and deceptive, but the only end to which this leads is one where God has become our savior, and we have become saviors of our world.
That's not how it was meant to be.
I'm not saying it's bad that we should seek to draw our strength from God. I'm not saying that we should not pour out what God has given us to our communities. But what I am saying is that we have to realize and remember that just as we have the persons God has given us, so, too, we are the persons that God has given to others.
Jesus' ministry was not one-sided, and He had direct access to all the power and glory of God. We read through the Gospels, and we do not see Jesus doing all of the work. We see others traveling with Him. We see others setting tables for Him. We see others shopping for Him. We see others praying with Him. We see others doing all sorts of things for Him, and it's not because there was something weak in Jesus' faith that could not get this sort of thing from God, but it's because in the beautiful way that God does community, the person of Jesus was given to the very persons that Jesus was given.
Just as we are given to the very persons we are given.
And I think that this is an area that we can all do better in. I know I can. Most of us are living some kind of martyred existence, where we're running ourselves empty all the time for the sake of being there for others, but we don't know how to let others be there for us. We're giving all we've got, and not getting much in return, and we're saying with weary voices that this is okay, but all the while, the doubt is creeping in because our tired prayers are fervent, but fruitless - even God is not restoring us. Then we look around and realize all the lives we've touched, all the hands we've held, all the tears we've wiped, and we look in the mirror and wonder who is touching our lives, who will hold our hands, who will wipe our tears. All of a sudden, in the very midst of this community, we feel the tremendous weight of loneliness, and we cannot fathom how God could do this to us.
He hasn't; this wasn't His plan.
His plan was that we, too, would be given. That we, too, would be someone's person. That we would be a lot of someone's person. Our stories would be ones in which sometimes, we set the table, but sometimes, we simply sit around it. Our stories would be ones in which sometimes, we keep watch over those who pray and sometimes, they keep watch over us. Our stories would be ones in which sometimes, we reach out and touch those around us and sometimes, they reach out and touch us. Our stories would be this beautiful interplay of life in the community of God, not an everlasting up-and-down of Jacob's ladder, but a back-and-forth across the table, with dirty feet and hearty laughter and communion wine dribbling down our chins.
So as we think about who it is that God has given us, let us also think, too, about who it is that He has given us to. Who are our people? And whose people are we? What is this community to which we've been called and how do we play a full part in it, as both ministers and the ministered, as givers and takers, as given to and simply given?