A few weeks ago, my church community participated in a community service project called “Project 40”. The goal of this project was to reach out to others in our community with the love of Jesus. For forty hours, many people in our church were involved in all types of community service. One lady organized a coat drive for a number of local shelters. A team did yard work for seniors who needed help. Another group went to visit the residents in a local nursing home. The church prayer team walked the neighborhood and prayed. The youth group cooked and brought breakfast to the local fire station. I could go on and on as there were many different projects all going on at various points throughout the weekend. In addition to all of this, an hourly prayer vigil was taking place throughout the entire 40 hours of the project. People signed up for an hour block to pray for their neighbors and for all of us to reach out to them with love.
I participated on the yard work team and learned that it was really not about the yard work but about connecting with the people that we were serving. It was a great experience. In addition, I signed up for an hour of prayer time during the prayer vigil. It was this that really convicted me about my need to be more connected with those in my neighborhood.
As I sat down in my quiet study at 7pm to pray, I realized that I knew very, very little about those neighbors who lived all around me. Some of them I know by name. Some of them I don’t. I sat there in my study ready to pray for the needs of my neighbors and all I could think about was how sorry I felt that I did not have anything to ask for in prayer on their behalf. I didn’t know if any of them were sick or lonely, or scared or worried. I didn’t know anything about their struggles. I didn’t know anything about their victories, joys or interests. I sat before my God and was ashamed. For the first time in my prayer life of over 20 years, I had nothing to say to God.
My Book of Common Prayer saved me that night. I prayed through the service of Evening Prayer and through the Psalms, offering my prayers up to God on behalf of my neighbors and asking Him to please help me to re-prioritize my life. How could it be that I- a self admitted helping addict- had no time to know my neighbors? I am an extremely friendly person. I am not even close to being shy. If you looked up extrovert in the dictionary- you would see my picture. I make friends with people in the grocery store, in Starbucks, waiting in line at Kohl’s. How did this happen that I don’t know my neighbors? I am a loving person. I am a follower of Jesus. For goodness sake- I am studying to be a pastor!!
As I sat and prayed about this over the course of the last two weeks I began to come up with the beginning of an answer and the answer I came up with is so shocking to me that I am actually afraid to write it down………I have become too involved in the Church. That is the answer. I am not proud of it but it is true. I have been so concerned with spreading the Gospel to those in the Church that I have had no time to even think about those in my neighborhood. I work a full time teaching job. I am studying for an M.Div. in Seminary. I care for my Mom who has dementia. I am a wife, Sunday School teacher, Bible study leader and on my church prayer team. I serve on the student government at my Seminary. These are all good and worthy things but I am realizing that my involvement with church and Seminary activities has allowed me to think that I am giving enough of my time to the cause of Jesus. I am all set. I don’t have time to add one more loving activity to my list. This is a problem. There is a name for this phenomenon. They call it “living in the Christian ghetto”- and I am just beginning to understand that that is what I have been doing.
Something needs to give. After all- there are only so many hours in the day. I am not God. I cannot make the days longer (though if I ever were given the gift of omnipotence, that is one of the first things I would do). So……..how to create more time in my life so that I can get to know my neighbors? I will have to cut back on some of my involvement in the Church. To even write this down makes me shake with fear because my main identity for the last 20 years of my life has come from the Church. What I am realizing after all these years is that identity in Christ is different from identity in the Church. So I am asking the Lord to help me to see ways that I can become involved with my neighbors and which church activities I can cut back on in order to make more time to be involved with the outside world. I am not quitting Seminary. I am almost done so that is one thing that I cannot change but there are other things I can cut back on and I am listening for God’s voice so He can begin to show me how to re-structure my life. I need to make more room for relationships with people outside of the Church. I will never leave the Church. I feel more at home in church than I do anywhere else in the world but it is time for this church girl to make her way in the world. It is scary but also very exciting………
Have any of you ever made this type of change? Any suggestions of ways that I can reach out to my neighbors??