I hate my birthday. I have always hated my birthday. My mom tells this story about my first birthday, which ends with me reduced to a pile of inconsolable tears because they wanted me to eat my cake with my hands. Even at my youngest, I liked utensils and napkins. It’s, like, my “thing.”
Nowadays my friend Amy makes a triple chocolate amaretto cake for me and it’s way too good to make a mess of it. And because I know that cake was made with such love and happiness that I was born, it takes some of the grump out of me on that day. But, I’m still not a fan of my birthday. I detest being the center of attention. This is also the reason that I’m a terrible compliment-receiver and thanks-getter.
I was thanked twice this week for things that seemed to me nothing I needed to be thanked for.
While I was at a girls night with some of the ladies from my church, one of my youth moms thanked me for my involvement with the group and, particularly, for being someone in her son’s life. She talked about how everyone has different callings, and that she knows youth ministry is not hers but it is very clear to her that it is mine. It was an incredible affirmation, a gracious gift from this woman who was once my Girls in Action leader and who’s witnessed me grow into my adult self. Yet, I changed the conversation topic as quickly as I could back to the youth themselves, because I’d rather gush about them without end than spend even a minute focused on myself.
And my BFF thanked me for, as much as I can reason, being her friend. She was sitting with her son on her lap and randomly, in the midst of helping her sister pack for her trip to Florida, said, “I know it has to be hard sometimes for you to see me nursing Noah and to have so many conversations that are baby-focused, but I just want you know that I’m grateful for you and I appreciate it.” My response to these thanks, however, was very different than my response to my youth mom’s thanks. I accepted it without hemming and hawing, because hearing the words were balm to a wound in my heart that I’d been trying unsuccessfully to salve with other things.
I’ve never questioned my position as a youth leader, and I’ve always believed God called me into this group of teenagers and leaders for this particular season. I love Sundays because I get to sit with my girls and talk to them about who God is and how they can best model Jesus in their schools, and jobs, and families, and sports teams. I look forward to the week of camp every year, to staying in the dorms and eating cafeteria food and not sleeping, because I get to serve alongside them and see God working in and through them. When it comes to my youth, Jesus makes Himself known to me in ways that are fun, in ways that are easy, in ways that aren’t actually all that much “work” on my part.
When it comes to my mom-friends and their babies, though, I’m much less confident. Because being a friend doesn’t feel like a “calling” and because, where I’m sure of how to be in relationships with my teens, I’m equally unsure of how to be in relationships with babies, since I don’t know how to change a diaper or heat a bottle or carry on a conversation with someone who lacks words. I also have figured out that I have cap on how many hours I can talk about breastfeeding or exer-saucers or poop. Where I feel like I “fit” as a youth leader, I feel much less like I “fit” with my mom-friends. Sitting through conversations about breastfeeding and exer-saucers and poop is work. Learning how to change a diaper and heat a bottle is work. Being a friend when I don’t know how to relate or feel like I’m contributing anything to the conversations is work. Yet, Jesus is making Himself known to me, though it’s in ways that aren’t easy and that aren’t always fun.
Sanctification sometimes works like that, I think. Sanctification, the process by which we’re all made a little bit more like Jesus, is sometimes easy and sometimes, maybe more often, very, very hard. Sometimes we’re going to see God plainly, and sometimes we’re going to have to look for Him. Sometimes we’re going to feel like we’re exactly where we should be, and sometimes we’re going to feel anxious and displaced. Sometimes we’re going to be teaching, and sometimes we’re going to get taught. The key, I think, is to always be surrendered to the process, whatever it looks like and however it comes, taking the easy with the hard.
And sometimes all it takes to remind you that God is using you to make a difference in the world is a getting a “thank you” from a mom who’s glad you’re following your calling. And sometimes all it takes to remind you that God is drawing you closer to Himself is getting a “thank you” from your friend who’s glad you’re doing life with her, even though it’s hard sometimes.
All this to say, as difficult as it may be for me to receive it, I’m beginning to think that thanks-getting has its place in the sanctification process.
Thank you, Jesus.