Many years ago, I worked as an academic counselor for students at a community college. My job was unique in that all my advisees had significant barriers to overcome.
In our department, we had teen moms, sex workers, former inmates, and people whose diagnoses limited them (addiction, mental illness, or physical limitations). We had those who were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Our students, no matter how old they were, had long and complicated lives. They had developed systems which, while unhealthy in the strictest sense, had kept them alive. Embracing new behaviors might promise to improve their lives, but most students had no desire to release old habits.
Young and Privileged? Totally.
And yet there I was, a privileged 20-something year old insisting they go to class and turn in assignments. My pseudo-wisdom rang hollow, and they often resisted my advice. Eventually, I got the message: “Stop trying to change our lives!” They taught me that life change takes time. It takes trust and commitment. It requires relationships marked by deep and abiding love.
Students become teachers? Exactly.
My students also taught me, though, that while life transformation is slow and arduous, changing a moment is quick and easy. So, that became my focus: I aimed to give our students better moments. That meant I gave them my full attention. I remembered their names. I made eye contact. I honored their stories. In that way, their moments—at least the ones I could impact—got better. I hoped that in time, they would get used to being respected and loved.
Ministry Application? Always.
Now, decades later as pastor of Ecclesia, I sometimes feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the magnitude of the world’s problems. I get distracted by poverty, war, violence, and the plight of those living in the margins. I focus on the frustration of inequities and injustices, and on the mind-boggling inaction by those in power.
But, when I stop fretting long enough, I hear the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whisper, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 CEB)
Moment by Moment? That’s the way.
Those words remind me that we can always change a moment. We can always walk alongside, offer comfort, and respect differences. We can lean in and speak up, lending our voices to those who have been silenced. We can make little, tiny differences that add up to something much more.
And moment by moment: unexpected laughter breaks the flow of tears.
Moment by moment: creativity shatters the monotony.
Moment by moment: compassion listens and the neglected spirit is restored.
To God be the Glory.