Steward of Suffering

When my father got sick, I wrote about it in real-time. A few of those blog posts were widely shared and read due to the circumstances of his sickness and death.

Did I exploit his situation? I knew he did not think so. He was more than happy for many more to hear about his life in Christ, even while his body was dying. But, the thought lingered.

Recently, I listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt titled Keys to Writing a Killer Blogpost. I highly recommend it. At one point, Hyatt mentions the concept of stewarding our lives. Stewarding our stories. Stewarding our suffering. It resonated with me.

Hyatt’s podcast fleshed out in words what I hoped for and still hope for through my writing. In some way, I wanted to steward my dad’s suffering. Beyond that, I want to grow in stewarding my own.

So, what is a steward?

A steward is by definition in Merriam-Webster’s: one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts). Or, one appointed to supervise the provision and distribution of food and drink in an institution.

A steward is a manager. At best, they are fair and look after those affairs given to them in honesty. At worst, they are insubordinate, embezzling and neglecting their responsibilities causing people to suffer so they can gain. I imagine a mediocre steward fails to recognize the importance of their job.

Hmm.

I’ve failed miserably at stewarding other hard things in my life to the hurt of some very dear to me. Lately, I sense that every day I am faced with the invitation to be a steward. Sometimes its my own situation I must steward. At times, it is someone else’s.

When life gives you lemons, squeeze the heck out of them. It feels good and channels the emotion. It’s a lot of work. It stings the eyes. It bites the wounds we already have. The juice is so sour. At some point, sometimes just in heaven, He provides the sugar.

 

What does it take to be a good manager of what God entrusts to me? It starts with turning away from some common lies about our master.

God doesn’t care about my suffering…

Sometimes I feel like I am working at a distance from God. I’m in a cubicle, one of many. I’m an ill prepared employee blaming my boss. He’s not around to know how hard it is and He didn’t send me to that training. I grow resentful.

I see the opposite of a distant and uncaring God in the Bible when Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death. When the Israelites’ cries came before God in heaven while they were in Egypt. He was merciful to them in the desert, knowing their weakness and giving them time to heal. He saw Haggar. Saul persecuted the early church. Jesus asked him at his conversion, why are you persecuting Me? Not, why are you persecuting them but why are you persecuting Me.

God is not unfeeling. He does care. Because He is omnipresent, He is never absent.

My suffering is mine to bear alone, not burden others with…

No one wants to be needy. Problem is, we are all needy. To not be needy is to be God, completely self-sufficient, which makes Him the best provider for our needs. Our suffering is close to God’s heart and we must bring it there first.

But, we must also bring it to others in the family. Paul writes that when one member suffers, we all suffer with them. We comfort with the comfort we receive from God, and are called to give and receive comfort.

Sadly, not all will suffer with you. I have not always suffered with others. Those failures still grieve me. They also teach me in many painfully good ways what it is to stand alongside others better in their suffering now. I can never take back the salt I poured on wounds, but Jesus paid for that too and He can heal that in my friend’s life as well.

As I learn to share my suffering with God and others, I learn to carry others as well. I expect it to make churches and communities warmer places as we carry suffering, because we all suffer.

I should share my hard times when I’m over them…

Sharing struggles against temptations, failures, and doubts in real-time is challenging. It feels like what’s better is to share how I used to struggle. And, some hard times do need to resolve a little with limited counsel to steward them well before crowds.

What happens when I share my temptations, failures, and sin in real-time is that it often takes the power of secrecy and darkness away. Just like many of my hardest moments mentally seem to be in the dark of literal night, so struggles and failures against sin rage when they fester out of the light of the One readily available and able to fight them.

Bring them into the light with a trusted and mature person well versed in the Word and life, and it is like turning on a light in the middle of the night. Things are clearer, brighter, and usually a bit more hopeful. I thank God for the many women and men, too, who have turned on the light in the dark room of my soul.

On the Job Training

There is no way a blog post could exhaust this topic. I know I haven’t grown fully into my job description as a wise manager. I envision a painting (by an old master of course) of a steward depicting this aspect of my life in Christ more fully. I picture a person sitting at a table with provisions, a line of people in front of them, but also a kind master behind them whispering in the steward’s ear instructions regarding what is to be dispensed.

Listening to the master while facing the people strikes me as a good position to steward well. Maturity in Christ comes through on the job training.

How have you stewarded suffering well? Where do you stumble as a steward?

 

Frozen Green Tomatoes

A woman thrust the tomato plant into my hands when I displayed a mild level of interest. The pastors set up a garden behind the children’s wing and these were the leftover tomato plants, a bit bedraggled and needing a good home.

I couldn’t promise them the good home, but we have dirt in our backyard. I came home and put them in a large planter on a lark. Growing things is new for me.

We left a few weeks later for a 6 week trip during which a turtle died but our tomato plant flourished. It was a stunning discovery. It was large and hanging over the edge of the planter!

In adjusting back to the U.S. after so long in our former familiar culture, I needed a project to focus my attentions on. I would see this tomato plant through until it produced tomatoes. Picture a woman making a solemn vow.

I bought a cage, plant friendly insecticide, tomato fertilizer. Every day I checked on the plant which continued to grow. I read blogs and did weird things like shake the tomato plant vigorously so it would pollinate itself. Bees are scarce and I began feeling mildly panicked about our loss of the bee population in respect to my tomato plant’s chance of success.

Imagine my joy when I discovered small yellow flowers! Flowers lead to fruit. Tomatoes are a fruit! Tomatoes should soon come.

They did not. The flowers wilted and died without fruit. I got mad at the plant that failed to grow under my helicopter gardening. I stopped watering it and left it to itself in the 90+ degree September heat.

It sprang a tomato. Then another. What a tease! Fine, I thought. You’re doing so well on your own, I’ll let you continue that way. So I did.

The tomatoes kept growing bigger and still green. I began checking on them again, these very expensive tomatoes.

Then it froze this week. 2 nights in a row of a bitter cold. I neglected the tomato plant. It lay out there cold and bare with no blanket to cover it. With Christmas and busyness beyond the norm, the tomato plant got the shaft.

I don’t expect any ripe tomatoes now. Just frozen green tomatoes turning to mush. May it yet surprise me.

About halfway through this tomato story, I began to wonder why I was writing this up? What does a tomato plant have to do with anything? Probably not much but its served as a visual reminder of principles my heart needs to know. A kind of wrap up on a fall of life and ministry.

So, here is what my tomato plant taught me…

  • Only so much is really under my control, and its a very little much.
  • Faithfulness in what is my part of God’s will is not promised to yield
  • Expectation of fruit is highly motivating, yet faithfulness is more steady a motivation
  • When fruit fails to come, its easy to get discouraged, resentful, and unfaithful to my task
  • God often chooses to remind me to trust Him for fruit by bringing it in unexpectedly and unrelated to the proportion of my efforts
  • Fruit purposely left on the vine and untended in harsh conditions is evidence of neglect and unfaithfulness
  • Yet, God can surprise and often uses harsh conditions to temper His children and make them hardier. He doesn’t waste anything.

Who knows, maybe I will get more than I deserve, more than frozen green tomatoes. It is supposed to reach back up near 70 this week.

But even if I don’t, my tomato plant experience revealed quite a bit about my spiritual life. I plan on trying again.

Gardening seems to be a God-given method to teach me His ways.