The concept of living a life poured out has been stirring in my spirit quite a bit lately. What does it mean? Are we really called to do it? Is it…fun?
First, I’d like to say that this phrase–“a life poured out”–isn’t an official something that somebody told me. I’m sure it’s been used before, but for me, it’s nothing more or less than my best attempt at describing the “picture” of the lifestyle that’s dancing in front of me, strangely beckoning me with joy and laughter.
This lifestyle…this way of living, of living a life poured out for others…is full of sacrifice. When needs are thought of, they are always the needs of others. And when a woman living this way is thinking of herself, it is always of thanksgiving and gratitude…never of her own needs and pain and struggles.
Of course, this isn’t the first time I (or anyone else) have thought about a life of sacrifice. Most of us have probably learned about a monk or missionary or someone like Mother Theresa or Adoniram Judson who lived a life of extreme hardship in order to to tell others about Jesus or help others. I’ve occasionally gotten uncomfortable, wondering if we are all supposed to live like that, because most of the time, it sounds down-right miserable! (At least to me, it did.)
Then there are those who can show you in the scriptures where God wants us to live happy, prosperous, joy-filled lives. And they’re right! There are thousands of verses that speak of the blessings that fill and surround God’s plan for us.
But what if we’re still supposed to live a life of sacrifice?
What if one is only possible when it accompanies the other?
Over a month ago, I watched/listened to this video testimony of Chad and Sarah Markley. It’s an amazing story that a seven-minute video can’t possibly do justice to, but at the end, Chad says something remarkable. He had just finished telling why he felt he had no choice but to forgive his wife after her lengthy affair…explaining why it would have been hypocritical of him to do anything else…sharing why hope for his future was found, not in taking advantage of the fact that he had Biblical grounds for divorce, but in taking the harder road instead…and he said this:
The key to it all is that you have to be willing to do what Christ did in going to the cross. Think about what He suffered: embarrassment, shame, pain, death. It comes down to this: what are you willing to give up, in exchange for what He has?
Those words, what are you willing to give up, in exchange for what He has, shot through me. In fact, I think that those words signaled the sprouting of a seed that God planted almost a year ago and that He has been watering and fertilizing all year long. A seed of truth.
The seed was planted when I found another Katie online. That Katie read the parable of the sheep and the goats, left the USA, and went to Uganda for a year to help feed the poor and the needy and the orphans. She was eighteen. God stretched the year, and God stretched her, and when I found her this past January 5th, she was 21 years old, a permanent resident of Uganda, and the legal adopted mother of 14 girls.
She gets tired. She gets overwhelmed. She gets stressed out. But she loves, and she loves, and she loves, and God fills her with joy, and peace, and strength beyond what most of us sheltered Americans can even comprehend. To her, it is simple. We are commanded to love and care for the orphans, and so she is.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe there’s something about finding someone with my name, pouring out her life in a way far beyond anything I’d even considered, and finding more joy and fulfillment and purpose than I’d ever dreamed in the process. Maybe that’s what jolted me out of so many of my grand and selfish misconceptions. What if I had been born her, and she had been born me? Who would gain the most, and who would lose the most?
I began to realize something somewhat strange about my way of thinking.
When I imagine living like Mother Theresa, Adoniram Judson, and others who have sacrificed much, I’ve always focused on their sacrifices and how difficult their lives must have been. But when I imagine living like Jesus, I’ve always found myself thinking about the power, and the joy, and the awesomeness of being able to touch a blind person and heal them.
Why are they separate in my mind?
I’m slowly but surely becoming convinced that this marriage of both…the sacrifice and the blessing…the power amidst the struggle…is how I (and maybe all of us) am truly called to live.
How did Jesus live? He said He came to be the servant of all. The servant! Yet I want to balk whenever someone treats me like I’m their servant.
1 John 3:16-24 says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Why do I act as though, because no one is asking me to give my life to save theirs, I am therefore not called to give every part of my life to save many little parts of others’ lives? I am ashamed to say that sometimes I decide quite righteously that giving a one-hour part of my life to help someone else is more than I am called to do. After all, I can’t stretch myself too thin! And God isn’t calling me to do that. (Except I never stopped to ask Him. At least, I didn’t ask with a willing, humble, and sacrificial heart.)
How is that Biblical?
There is this philosophy that I’ve often heard and even shared myself. We have to have boundaries. We have to learn to say, “No.”
We say this, of course, because of the worn-out and stressed-out humans around the world who have been going, doing, and helping until they break down from exhaustion. Most of us have experienced some measure of it. And so we reason that it is our going and doing and helping that is the problem.
But what if it’s not?
I am now asking myself these questions:
Those times when I have worn myself out helping others…was I also spending time with God, drawing from the well of living water so that as I gave, I was also replenished?
Was I walking so closely to Him that His strength was flowing through me?
Have I believed the lie that His strength and peace and provision have limits? Limits that I’ve already reached?
Was I giving and going and doing for pride, to soothe guilt, or for some other reason that was anything more or less than love and obedience to God?
These questions lead to many more…and I don’t have the answers for many of them. There is also a strong temptation to look for a set of “rules” that will tell me how far is too far, for common sense tells us that we can’t meet all of the needs we see.
But that’s not what God wants us to do. He said, “Go.” He said, “Love.” He said, “Give.” He said, “Obey.” He said, “Freely you have received. Freely also give.”
Not once did He say, “Hold back.” Never did He say, “Give only until you start to get exhausted, and then stop, because My strength and grace have limits, and you will lose your reward if following Me causes you to die before your time.” Nor did He say, “Those who go too far helping others will lose their strength. They will crawl like slugs. They will faint like grass without water.” The fact is, we will faint without the living water, no matter how much we do or don’t try to do. And if we actually compared some of the statements we make with scripture or with 1 Corinthians 13, we’d discover that they’re just as outlandish as these.
He said, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” I wonder what would happen if every single last one of us did that before we began our day, and then did it again when we started to get tired? I wonder if He’d hold true to His promise. That sounds like a preposterous question to even type…yet I know I act as though I’m not sure I believe that promise.
It starts and ends with the heart. Selfishness, or love. Everything else flows as naturally from the heart as water pours from a spring.
Instead of waiting for God to provide the time and money and provide divine direction with a booming voice from heaven, I think it starts with a change of questions. Instead of asking Him, “Lord, do You want me to do something,” it starts with, “Lord, what would you have me do?”
Let me share the rest of the story of how Katie-in-Uganda blessed Katie-in-Ohio.
It took a couple of weeks for my heart to get softened, but finally I humbled myself before God. In the midst my confusion, I offered the willingness I had recently found in my heart to Him, and I cried out, “Father, I want to do more. I want to love people like that. But I’m here in America where our hearts are hard with superiority and material possessions and our eyes are blind to what really matters. It’s easier for that Katie to do something to meet the need around her, for those around her know they are dying. I have a husband and children and things I know You have called me to do here…I can’t just leave it all and run off to Africa to where the need is easy to identify.“
He pointed to the nursing home around the corner.
And over the weeks that followed, I felt that finger in the back of my consciousness, all the time. Pointing, pointing, pointing. There are people who know they are close to death. There are people who are forgotten and abandoned. There are people who need someone to love them.
Finally, I obeyed.
I don’t know how much to share or how to share it, for the reality that I’m experiencing is so vastly different than what I expected.
How do I explain how much of a miracle it seems to feel His love flowing through me to the precious people there as I am now experiencing it?
Am I bragging if I try to explain the difficulties in spending an hour playing an old out-of-tune piano and working to make my not-very-powerful singing voice (that’s aimed at the wall, no less) be heard in ears that could benefit from hearing aids if they could afford them…all because they want to hear me sing? In some miraculous way, singing for them is loving them. Or perhaps it is no more miraculous than a mother singing a lullaby to her baby because she loves him. And the people there are so easy to love!
My perceptions of what it means to reach out to people have broken down in the face of a reality that is more powerful.
This reality is that I could barely hold back tears of joy last Friday because I could plainly hear a dozen shaky voices behind me singing along: “This is my story, this is my song! Praising my Savior, all the day long…”
We sing, “He walks with me and He talks with me. And He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share, as we tarry there….none other, has ever known.” And the reality is that He is there, in that nursing home, and I am experiencing such joy there with Him that I want to tarry. With them.
The reality is that thousands of Christians every Sunday are relieved when their twenty minutes of worship is over and they can sit down…while every Friday, there is a handful of precious people who sing hymns with me for a whole hour, and then are sorry that I don’t know any more and that my fingers are tired because they don’t want to stop.
The reality is that dear Marie almost gets tears in her eyes because our worship times are the closest thing to church she’s had since she became a resident.
The reality is that some of those lost in the confusion and misery of Alzheimer’s smile and relax as they sing words they cannot forget.
The reality is that they beg me to come and get them when I visit (if they forget which day it is) because they soak up every bit of love and attention and don’t want to miss a chance to praise the One who hasn’t left them.
I am richer and my life is fuller because of them.
And instead of being even busier and more stressed and stretched thin, I am busier and less stressed and more productive and more relaxed.
I don’t share this because I want people to say what a good job I’m doing, so please don’t. I’m sharing what I’m experiencing to proclaim God’s goodness to me, and to encourage you to go ahead and make that sacrifice that God has been quietly asking of you. It won’t be anywhere near as painful as you think.
I think God redeems the sacrifices He asks of us…redeems and then multiplies that redemption until we are overflowing with more and looking for more ways to pour it out because we’ve got extra. I think this redemption also heals our own needs and pain and struggles, which is why a woman living that way would be full of praise and thanksgiving.
Am I saying that you should move to Uganda and adopt 14 orphans? No. Am I saying you should go and sing for your local nursing home residents? No.
I am saying that I believe we have missed it. At least I did.
I’m saying that I should have assumed that He had more for me to do and listened for Him to tell me what it was, rather than sitting back hoping that what I was already doing was enough.
Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice…but that doesn’t mean that obedience isn’t going to involve sacrifice. I’m coming to believe that it always will. But when the sacrifices are redeemed and turned into blessing, it looks nothing like what this Katie once thought it would.
And that makes me eager to let Him turn the little stream I’m dribbling out into a river…a river of living water that can only flow once His grace enables me to truly live a life poured out.
More gifts for today’s Multitude Monday:
455. The old piano at the nursing home
476. The other residents whose names I still can’t remember.
477. The smiles they give me
478. The staff that doesn’t mind that I sing nothing but hymns
479. The way God has started multiplying my time and productivity
480. The opportunity to touch lives, even here in America
481. And future assignments from Him.