I lay on my back staring up at an odd array of colors and textures. Lumpy pinks and reds, smooth blues and greens and a strange, stretchy grey-white — each mound pressed against a backdrop of beautifully aged wood.
I’d just read the story of Samuel and was convinced that somehow, I too, could serve in the House of God. My mom agreed and must have convinced someone at our church to give me a job. I waited for the big day with anticipation and showed up at my church with great expectation. The church lady handed me an important tool — a rusted putty knife — for an equally important task — to scrape the gum from under the pews.
I was five. Eager and innocent, I accepted my challenge and went forth, putty knife in hand. As far as I knew, detaching cemented gum from pews was equal to pastoral leadership. It had to be one of the most important jobs in the world — or at least in the church.
I chuckle at that memory, but the truth is I wish my heart had remained childlike and eager. I don’t know how or when the change took place, but it did. Somewhere along the way an insidious lie crept in. You know the one, “I must do good and important things to prove my worth to God and others.” My contented, unseen acts of service morphed into public declarations of personal value.
Getting good grades, faithfully attending youth group, going off to a Christian college and later working at notable Christian ministries became high-stakes tokens. Tokens to buy what I did not understand was a gift — unconditional love and acceptance.
It all came unglued when I lost my “purchasing power.”
“How?” you ask.
I left my job to go home and be a mom.
The embedded lie seemed to rear its ugly head each time I tried to connect with other moms. I panicked when the dreaded question, “Oh and what do you do?” came up. I always seemed to spit out a litany of past jobs and current projects that connoted busyness and importance.
“What is wrong with me?” I wondered. “Why do I have to make myself look like I’m worth something?”
One night at a Christian conference, a man asked if He could pray for me. Not wanting to look unspiritual, I agreed. He prayed that God would use my gifts and talents and then added, “God, I pray that this woman will know that she is loved not for her gifts and talents, but because she belongs to You.”
Ahhh. That was it. God loved ME. No matter what. And I was His.
Some years ago, I ran across a quote from theologian and writer, Henri Nouwen, who said, “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity — an illusion! Loudly and clearly He says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God!'”
How true. How powerful. What rest.
I am a child of the living God — dearly loved before the beginning of time, handcrafted by Him and loved unconditionally beyond all measure — even in the darkest moments of my darkest sin. Nothing can separate me from His love and all my good works cannot purchase what He freely gave and bought with the highest of purchase power in existence — the blood of Jesus Christ.
The crazy thing is I’m back to the gum-scraping days. The gum-scraping days of motherhood, that is. Days where my hard work goes unnoticed by almost everyone except God. Days where diligently chiseling away at the tasks of mommying feel overwhelming.
But there is joy. Joy in knowing that my humble obedience matters to God. Joy in knowing, however, that that obedience can never buy what God has already freely given. Joy in knowing that God has called me to the gum-scraping work of motherhood and because He has — it really is the most important job in the world.