On September 29th, the DC127 network came together again to celebrate, worship, and pray. We’ve done this every year since we launched and it’s become an important rhythm to remind ourselves to stay rooted in Christ as this network’s foundation. We did something a little different this year. Instead of focusing on big numbers or finding more volunteers and families, we took some time to narrow in our network and take a second to breathe.
We asked an important question of our network: What is our fuel?
What keeps us going? I think this is an important question that often gets overlooked when we’re working in nonprofits or ministry. We things get hard or it seems like there is no hope, what keeps us committed to the love and service we’re called to? What sustains us?
I think this is important to understand for two reasons:
- What’s flowing in affects our beings: Think about physical health. If you just ate bacon exclusively for every meal, you’d probably feel the effects and your body would work as well as it can. Bacon is great, but bacon isn’t going to give us all the vitamins we need (no matter what I tell myself). The same thing goes for the rest of our lives. The things that keep us going, give us energy and rest – those things are going to affect our very beings and our souls. What we rely on as a source of strength matters for our health.
- The input affects the output: What we rely on to keep serving, working, and loving our communities, is going to affect how we’re able to serve and love them. I was once training for a long bike ride, but I kept getting tired really early into the rides. My dad, who was the one dragging me onto the bike, finally saw me eat my regular breakfast – a bowl of oatmeal. He made me wake up earlier and eat more and pay attention to what sort of things I was eating. See, while my oatmeal can get me to lunch on a normal day, what I was putting into my body wasn’t enough to accomplish what I was trying to do. What we’re taking in affects what we’re able to put out.
This is often framed as soul care. If we believe we’re called by God to serve and love, and if our souls are the piece of us most connected to the Divine, then keeping that connection healthy will affect the way we are able to love the world around us.
So, what sustains us? I had a friend in college who meditated on different symbols focus, health, strength, love, etc. She told me about how the focus of her meditation was to find more of these qualities in herself. She had the focus or strength she needed, she just needed to find it within herself. We certainly have a lot to learn from other traditions, including this practice, but I think this idea is a pervasive one and I think it falls short. Foundational to the Christian beliefs are that we don’t have everything we need to live the way God has asked us to live. We’re asked to constantly admit our own lack of ability and to trust God. If we just rely on what we already have – our passion, energy, love, whatever it is – we’re going to run dry when things get hard.
We do not have what it takes to love God and love our world within ourselves. Our attention to the care of our souls is our attention to the connection and relationship we have with the Divine – who is where we find the strength, passion, energy, and love we need to do what is asked of us, and only what is asked of us.
The second part of this piece is that our fuel, where we find our strength, affects what we’re able to do and how we’re able to do it. If we find our fuel in whatever we can dig up from within ourselves, we’re probably going to be really careful with how we use those resources, which makes sense. When it comes to our time, emotional energy, and tangible resources – if these can run dry, then we have to protect them.
If you have finite resources (money, time, emotional energy) and you don’t know that you’ll be renewed, you’ll operate out of scarcity and run the risk of being too occupied with the result of your service and in turn hoard your resources. We risk finding our strength in feelings of accomplishment and when those don’t come, we pull back. If we think we’re running out of resources, we’re never going to be able to serve with the selfless, sacrificial love God requires.
However, if we find our strength and our fuel for everything in God, who is infinite, the game begins to change. Suddenly, our lives and the work we do are tapped into the never-ending flow and love that is the Creator of the Universe.
When we serve out of the love we receive from God, we don’t love others because it makes us feel good, because they thank us, because they are nice to us, or because they accomplished everything we wanted for them, we don’t need that. That doesn’t keep us going. When we serve out of God’s strength, our reason for showing up is because God asked us to be there and we are able to walk knowing that God will figure the rest out.
So when this gets hard and you wake up to love a child who shows the same difficult behaviors each day, or you’re walking with someone and they lie to you because that’s the only way they’ve known how to get what they need to care for their family, or you’re caring for someone and things just don’t seem to move forward and all of you are frustrated, you can keep going. You’ll feel on the brink of empty, but you won’t be. You did what you were asked to do- you showed up. You can walk in that space and give one hundred percent and know that in Christ you will be refueled. You’ll be tired, but you know that you won’t be empty.
Inherent in all of this is the idea that we are limited. We need the source of love and strength that is Christ because we are limited. And my good friend Matthew Watson reminded me of this recently, and I’d like to read something he sent me:
“We can’t do it all. Not because we’re sinful or weak, but because God loves us. We can’t ‘fix’ much, and certainly not people. Not because I’m sinful or weak, but because God loves us.I can’t work endless hours, love endless numbers of people endlessly, I can’t send endless emails or make endless meals. Not because I’m sinful, but because I’m limited. And those limitations are a grace that remind me that God is bigger and fuller than I am and He’s the one who makes up the difference between my limitations and what needs to be done…. all who need to be loved, the meals that need to be made, the lists that need to be reversed.”
Being limited isn’t bad; it’s an opportunity to look back to and trust God.
I’m not saying “do more” or “say yes every time DC127 or CFSA calls you.” Part of deepening our connection and relationship with God means that we each know where God is asking us to step and then when we step there and we commit to that space. And then rest knowing that even when you give of yourself, it won’t be enough for the situation, but that was never asked of you. You will never be enough for all the needs of any child, parent, family, or city. Let that be a breath of relief. God didn’t ask you to be enough, you were just asked to show up.
My ask of you this year, and please hold us as staff and as an organization to this as well, is to care for your souls. Remember that you are limited and that you need not only direction from God around what is yours to step into, but also the love that only God can give. Because if we’re each stepping into the spaces God has called us to step, and each loving in those spaces with a love God has given us, then together we’ll make it.
As a network, we’re trying to grow wide, but if we’re not also growing deep and ensuring that we are resting in and relying on Christ, the only infinite source of strength there is, we’re never going to accomplish our vision, and the kids and families of our city deserve that vision.