I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything?
For several years now I’ve had no place of “service” in my church. Growing up the preacher’s daughter, working at church was second nature. As a young 8-year-old I stamped the church name and address on the small devotionals the church gave out to visitors. I stuffed pews with offering envelopes and visitor cards. I sang in the children’s choir, and when old enough sang in the adult choir. At our church in Indiana (the first church I went to for any extended period of time where my dad wasn’t the pastor) I held various jobs from teaching Vacation Bible School to working with youth to leading a women’s missions’ group to being the church historian (I really liked that last one!)
But since coming to our current church I’ve just not found my place of service. Part of it is I honestly haven’t been looking. I’m so busy already with everything else, adding something else to the plate seems too overwhelming. Plus our church is kinda big so it’s easy not to feel “needed.” Those are just excuses, I realize, but they are true nonetheless. It’s also been kinda nice hiding out, taking refuge, being taught and enjoying the service of others for a time. I recognize, though, that a respite should be “for a time” not indefinitely or forever. I believe God created us for services, He expects us to serve, and service is a sign of Christian growth and maturity.
So in January I signed up to help in the church nursery. I’ve worked in the nursery before, at this church and many others, but I never viewed or embraced it as a ministry or service. It was more like a “duty.” This I was going into with a different frame of mind.
Our church is medium to large so the babies are broken up into bed babies, crawlers and walkers, with 6-8 children in each age group. A flier in the bulletin detailed the age groups and times needed. I signed up for bed babies, every other month, during the second service. Several women in my Sunday small group and Wednesday Bible study groups were expecting or had new babies, so I thought bed babies would be a place I was equipped to serve, that I would enjoy, and one that would open up doors to new and better friendships with some of the women from class. Plus little tiny newborn babies are adorably cute and in general easy to take care of. A diaper, a bottle and a rocking chair and you’re good to go.
After receiving my volunteer form our preschool director emailed to ask if I would be willing to work crawlers instead, that she had more than enough sign up for bed babies but still needed people in crawlers. Of course I said yes. But inside I was kinda disappointed I wouldn’t get to rock my friends’ little tiny babies. But if there was a need in crawlers I would do it because that was the point, to help where it was needed. This wasn’t about me; it was about what area(s) my church needed workers. In the weeks leading up to my first Sunday in crawlers I prayed that it wouldn’t just be a task but that God would give me a heart for the children and for their parents and let this be a ministry, not just going through motions.
The first few weeks were actually kinda hard on me. I feel so silly saying it because it had nothing to do with the job itself. I could change diapers, watch babies, make sure they weren’t getting hurt or doing something they shouldn’t, and feed them snacks, juices or bottles if they needed it. But my feelings were easily hurt that none of the babies wanted anything to do with me. These children didn’t know me. They knew the other workers who had been in there week after week and their preference for them was obvious. Plus I didn’t know them. I had to constantly look at the sticker on their back to call them by the right name. I wanted to play with them, love them, care for them, and they looked at me like “who are you?” I sat on the floor with toys and books and they wouldn’t come sit in my lap. They’d sit with the other teachers but not me. They’re babies, they didn’t mean to hurt my feelings so I tried not to take it personal, but the first few weeks I left a little down-hearted. Not to mention something I didn’t expect: I didn’t know the other workers, and they knew each other (well) so at times I felt rejected both by the babies and my co-workers.
By the end of my first month (February) I was used to the routine of the room — how to clean the beds and toys, where to take the trash and the bed linens, etc. The babies didn’t look at me quite as weird as they did on my first week, so progress was being made. The workers didn’t look at me quite as weird either. Then I had the month off. For March I went back to Bible study. And wouldn’t you know it — I missed the babies. It was nice to be back amongst adults and participate in the study and discussions, but I missed the pudgy hands and the wobbly walks and feeding goldfish crackers, one at a time.
In April it was my turn again, and I went back a little more confident than I had been the month before. I was finally getting all their names down, and one or two, I think, remembered me. The second week one of our regulars, Lucas, wouldn’t stop crying. His mom said they were weaning him off the pacifier and to only use it if we absolutely had to. I spent a lot of one-on-one time that day with Lucas, trying to get him interested in a toy, distracting him with his juice, walking him around. We lasted nearly an hour without that paci before the other teachers had enough and gave it to him. But in that hour Lucas got to know me. Each week he cries, especially when his parents leave, but now he calms down (even if it’s intermittent) when I pick him up or sit in the floor with him. He even laid his head down on my shoulder a few times. It makes me happy inside to experience helping Lucas get over his separation anxiety, helping Lucas have a positive experience in God’s house, and helping Lucas’ parents have a worry-free worship-filled time at church because their son is being well-cared for.
Our new church year starts in June so a lot of the babies I’ve been getting to know the last few months will be promoted to walkers and several new babies will be promoted up from the bed baby nursery. So there’s a little anxiety there about starting all over again — new babies, probably new workers, new parents to get to know. It looks like I’ll be working every other week rather than every other month. So several changes are still to come but I can’t wait. I have a feeling there has been so much growth already in getting me to this point and there’s more growth to come. I think this is what service is meant to be like. Not just blessing others or accomplishing the task hand but even in our service there should be spiritual growth. I think that’s something a lot of people miss out on. For myself, I know I have. I’ve gone through the motions and believed that was good enough but there is so much more possible if we surrender and are open and eager for it.
In an old Friends episode Phoebe and Joey got into a debate about whether there was such a thing as a selfless good deed, Joey’s argument being that if the good deed made you feel good about yourself then it was no longer selfless. Without getting into on which side of that debate I fall, that episode came to mind when I was torn about whether or not to write here about the batteries, because I don’t want to seem to be bragging “look what I did” but I’m also happy to have helped in even such a small way as replacing batteries. So — I noticed a few weeks ago some of the musical, light-up toys in the crawler room weren’t working — they needed new batteries. I asked the other workers what they usually did when a toy needed new batteries. One lady said they had plenty of batteries but needed a little screwdriver to remove the battery covers. So how simple is that, right? We have a small screwdriver set at home so Sunday I brought it and we changed out the batteries. The lady in there first service was so excited and appreciative to have toys that work. And the babies had a lot more fun with toys that actually worked. If any a selfless good deed ever existed it wasn’t changing batteries because that simple act made me feel quite warm inside.