Thursday, September 13, 2012

Indispensable. Non-disposable.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

New Living Translation (NLT)
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges in human relationships, maybe most particularly in our harried, 21st century lives, is appreciating the people God brings into our lives--those who are absolutely indispensable...NON-disposable

Most of us don't wake up in the morning planning to discount our fellow human beings, but with so many demands upon our lives, so little time, and SOOOO much popular wisdom (even in evangelical circles) encouraging a "me first" way of life, it's easy to let some of the most important, yet often invisible, people in our lives go unnoticed, unappreciated--perhaps casually thanked, but essentially dismissed. None of us wants to admit it...but we all do it. And THAT really is NOT OK!

Some of us don't have to do much thinking about who the under-appreciated people are in our lives, because conscience throbs at the sound of their names. But even if we can call them to mind before reading the end of this sentence, it's worth performing a little gratitude test to get a complete picture.

I stumbled upon the appreciation test while my job was in jeopardy some time ago. My boss at that time--someone whose methods of encouragement and inspiration required a good bit of imagination--was holding my job in the balance and challenging me to prove myself indispensable to the organization so that I would not become disposable...unemployed. Let me say that my self-esteem absolutely plummeted as I tried to process the fact that I'd been deemed dispensable and so the most disposable among an already skeletal staff.  It wasn't until God intervened, in ways I could not have predicted, that I gained the insight and the confidence I needed to fight for my job.

In the throes of my self-pity, self-righteousness, and despair, I'd failed to be my own best advocate. I'd already discounted the long chain of mostly unseen contributions that I'd taken on and sustained throughout the course of my employment. My contributions ran the gamut from crafting executive level documents, to forging connections with other organizations, to taking on jobs no one else was interested in, to actually cleaning the bathrooms! And there were a whole host of small things I was doing on an individual level for other staff members--things for which I sought no public acknowledgment, but believed to be valuable because they were investments of time, talents, and treasures that enabled them to deliver their best work.

Throughout my Christian walk, I'd been consistently taught the importance of selflessness, humility, and un-lauded service and generosity as hallmarks of Christ's likeness. So in an effort to truly live as one willing to be a suffering servant, I'd learned to swallow my pride more often than not--finding myself again and again on my knees repenting of anything that appeared to me as the desire to be recognized and appreciated.

As noble (or martyred...?) as that might seem, I was failing in one extremely important way. I had no genuine assurance of my significance through Christ, or sense of any real value that my work and ministry added to the lives of others.  I'd been silently and unwittingly choking to death on the reality of being human...the daily assaults upon my dignity, worth, and purpose by others struggling in the same tangled web. Where was the line, I wondered, between Christ-like humility and and my unavoidable humanity?

While endeavoring to live my faith and be like Jesus, I lost the confidence I needed to walk tall in my job, share my ideas with conviction, and demonstrate my worth to the organization. I didn't know how to fight for my job when the time came, so all I had was a  prayer closet filled with the brittle bones of my pride, and the raw flesh of my perceived insignificance. I'd forgotten to bring out of that closet the confidence that comes with knowing who I am in Christ. I forgot to carry the words of Jesus out with me from the closet into the workplace and all my relationships.

Luke 12:6-7

English Standard Version (ESV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

But the reminder of my worth to Jesus was not the only lesson I'd learned when I'd suddenly been shoved to the threshold of looming disaster and unemployment. I also had the chance to think about the invisible, indispensable people in my own life--the folks who never ask for my time, treasures, or talents, but continuously gave me theirs. I had to take a good hard look at how much appreciation and gratitude I'd expressed (and genuinely felt) for people who were invisible...the ones who pray regularly for me and my family, who are the first to jump in and help with some time-consuming, unrewarding, and unglorious chore again and again and again, the ones whose greatest demands upon my life are the hope for simple acts of listening, and who keep secret their longing to be included in meaningful parts of my life and assured that their contributions to my success, safety, and well-being are meaningful.

I discovered that I'd developed my own casual habits of dismissive and ungrateful behavior. And while I'd never said to someone, "Prove to me that you are indispensable, or I will dispose of you," I certainly found that I'd treated some pretty indispensable people as if they were entirely disposable. My gratitude was scarcely measurable in relation to what I'd been receiving. I was no more generous or inspiring than the boss who'd left me feeling so worthless.

I'm not here to lay on the guilt, but I challenge you to do two things the next time you're feeling unappreciated. First, pray for insight and revelation as you search the scriptures for evidence of your value and purpose in life. Do you truly find your greatest worth and sense of significance in Christ? Or are you depending mostly upon the assurances of your worth from others whose good opinion you seek? Next, dig deeper and ask God to show you the invisible people in your life...the ones you treat as disposable, but who are part of an important, invisible network of support that God has crafted to keep you from falling.
It isn't enough to simply drop them a note of appreciation (though that's a start). Create opportunities for them to enjoy some of the first fruits of your time and talents. Share your treasures...most of those treasures are things like your confidence, vulnerability, and family. Overlook the ways in which they may not fit in with your other friends and fans. Forgive their weaknesses, short-comings, awkwardness, and mistakes, and focus on their consistent contributions. Build them up and allow them to become visible and equal among the important people in your life. Whether you realize it or not, these people are indispensable to your success, your safety, and your well-being. They are non-disposable.

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