Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Know Thyself

A friend and I were recently discussing how God reshapes us. He takes the hats we once wore, like the disciples who once wore fishing hats, and replaces them with hats of his design. I was once a D.C. property manager, managing a staff of 18, rehabbing a high rise in Bethesda when God tapped my husband and me for ministry.

Once I had committed to the call, I could not wait to be known for something other than a landlord. Defining the new Patty Hickman was now being placed in God’s hands. But there were bumps in the road. There were family members who disagreed with our decision to follow Christ in full time ministry. At the outset, they seemed concerned. But over time, I came to realize how they depended on me for emotional support. In short, my focus was being taken off of them and placed on Christ. The response was anger and even hostility.

Why was it important for me to be able to define who I was? If I hadn’t of known, then the old ropes that started tugging on me to draw me back into codependency would have succeeded and my full life of ministry would have been interrupted. I had to learn to know when I could effectively help my emotionally troubled family and when it was time to refer them to experts.

When a troubled person calls me for support, there are numerous hats I could put on. But I ask myself first, “Is this my hat?” As a believer who has known suffering, there are hats that I can expertly wear. I can encourage a mother who has lost a child because I’ve walked that road. I can teach emerging writers how to navigate the maze of publishing because I’m a career novelist and writing teacher. But I have to guard my time, so I teach only at agreed upon workshops.

Every opportunity that presents itself may be a true need, but trying to respond to every needy call will leave you empty and exhausted. You’ll look up and realize that you no longer have the life you dream you’d have because you’re walking in lockstep only to the crisis of others. The only cure is in your hands—look at the hat and ask, “Is this really my hat?”

Remember that resources are readily at your disposal. Here are some scenarios that we face continually in the ministry:
• If your friend or family member is threatening suicide, then you don’t need to cover that up. That’s far too great a risk for one person to handle alone. Call for emergency assistance. Let the experts decide whether or not this person needs to be kept for observation. Respond immediately.

• If a friend is going through a divorce, that is a one time crisis. You can be a source of comfort and let them know that you and other friends are going to pray for them and help them find support. DivorceShare groups are all over the country now. Help her find a group.

• If you receive a call from someone who has repeatedly taken illegal drugs or medicates using alcohol and other drugs, support from experts is needed. Finding the right support is the most difficult part of the process. If the person does not want expert help, but they’re continuing to run to you to make them feel better about themselves, refuse comfort and tell them you can’t help them unless they submit to professional counsel.

If you continually see a gap in the ministry or local church, perhaps God is showing you that gap because he wants you to stand in it. Perhaps he’s calling you to pray. If he wants you to take it further than prayer, he will let you know and show you how to accomplish good works in his time and way and through his power.