Everything meaningful thing that exists in my life has little (almost nothing) to do with what the amount of work I put in. I’m not just talking about my salvation—I’m talking about basically everything.
I know that such a statement is true for everyone, but sometimes it feels more acute in pastoral ministry settings. (Again, I’m not talking about super Christian-y things, just normal everyday things.) Here are just a few thoughts that remind me that it will always be hard to say that I did anything of significance by myself.
First, much of who I am today I am because of my parents. That’s a no-brainer, I know, but it is always one of the simplest things to overlook. Mom and Dad raised me—in all the ways of which I am aware and in the million others I’m not smart enough to realize. They provided for me. They loved me. They were there for me. They taught me. They formed me. They laughed with me. They disciplined me (except for when I could weasel out of it). I didn’t ask for my mom and dad and I certainly didn’t pick them. That’s just God’s grace. I did nothing to gain them but owe much of myself to them.
Second, even though I work and love work, I have never made ends meet on my own. My whole career path (if you can call it that) depends upon the generosity of others. I don’t bill my congregants (but maybe I should?). Because I get a paycheck deposited twice a month, it is easy to think that somehow the money came from a different place. It didn’t. Every dollar of my paycheck is directly attributed to a dollar that someone else has earned and entrusted to the church, but this idea isn’t even about my paycheck. I am provided for by others (family and friends) in a million other ways that far exceed what I take-home in salary. My PhD studies were carried along in large part due to the contributions of others—tuition, books, flights too and from Kentucky, etc. Much of the equity and work done in my home is from the generosity of others. Some of the clothes I wear were bought for me—you guessed it—by others. It is humbling when you start to realize that you had little to do with where you are—that I had little to do with hit. One of my pastoral mentors mentioned (after decades of ministry) that he has never lived solely off of his pastor pay—there have always been other ways of people providing. So true for me, too. When I start to think about all the ways I did nothing to be where I am I get overwhelmed—and I haven’t even started to consider all the ways people have prayed for me. Hours and hours and hours of prayer.
Third, I didn’t earn my family. I was unknown to my father- and mother-in-law for the bulk of my life and definitely the bulk of theirs (not that you’re old, guys!). I didn’t make Courtney who she was—the Lord had already been working on that. My kids? Those three young personalities with those three sets of gifts and those three laughs and those three temperaments? Sure, genetics plays a role, but they are their own people. My mom had a statement she made about my siblings and me that has stuck with me: they raised themselves. I never asked her about it but I think it was her way of communication the same idea: I didn’t do this. I can’t take credit for it. I should never take credit for it.
All of this makes sense when I think about the Lord. We are recipients of his grace—we get salvation; we get Jesus. You see signs of his grace all over, but I am struck by this portion of Deuteronomy 8:
11 “Be careful that you don’t forget the LORD your God by failing to keep his commands, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, 13 and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, 14 be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. 15 He led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, a thirsty land where there was no water. He brought water out of the flint rock for you. 16 He fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end he might cause you to prosper. 17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ 18 but remember that the LORD your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm his covenant he swore to your fathers, as it is today.
This post isn’t a prosperity post. It’s a reminder to me that God’s general operating of his people is always to heap grace upon them—to provide for them in 10,000 ways they see and another 10,000,000 they never will see. It’s a reminder that I should never say that it was because of something I did that I am where I am. Reflection on things unearned starves our pride and our ego from laying claim to something that simply is impossible.
I can’t ever really say, “I did it,” and that’s a great thing.