By Karen Swank
So, have you saved anyone yet?
The question is asked with a knowing smile and cynical edges around the eyes. It’s been aimed at me many times already in the three weeks I’ve been working at the shelter for abused women. It’s a companion to the “wisdom” that was passed along to me with such fervor when I announced I was taking the job, which took many forms but all boiled down to a certainty that They’ll All Just Return to Their Abusers Anyway.
Sometimes I smile and shrug, but most often I try to let the question pass, glossed over by a different vein of conversation. While I am generally willing to lay my heart and thoughts bare on the well-measured safety of the page, in person I feel the ever-present danger that my mouth will start down a wrong road and I’ll only just say things I’ll need to repent for later. So I don’t often explain myself. Let them think me the fool; it’s a title to which I’ve grown well accustomed over time.
Life, Christ, and the 12 steps I work daily to move away from codependency (short definition of that word: addiction to fixing others) and toward freedom have taught me a lot on the subject of Saving Other People. I have faced the breathtaking beast that is the arrogance within me that says I Can Save You. I’ve turned it over and cringed at its ugly underbelly, crawling with selfishness, denial and various lies. I have seen how it tries to rear its head and supersede the power of the Living God. I have heard how insistently it denies the truth that each person must walk his own journey, and one cannot do it for another.
Have I saved anyone yet? Definitely not. It’s not even on the horizon of my expectations. I did not take this job to Save the World – I accepted it as a gift from the Only One Who Saves. It’s an amazing gift; I can look back across my entire life and see the pieces He sewed into my life to ready me for it. Every job I’ve ever held, every relationship I’ve ever lived, every lie I have unlearned…all equipped me for it in one way or another. I study the way He has woven it all together, and I am undone at the beauty of His mercy, the intricacy of His plan, and the breadth of His power.
I am no longer striving to save the world. These days, I search for the spot God would have me stand, and I try to be there as consistently as possible. I serve because He allows it, and I am fed, enriched and blessed at every turn. This sort of service is an immeasurable gift in itself – one that does not require the reciprocation of perceived “results” or words of praise from others. Will people I’ve helped (whether at the new job or in other spaces of my life) return to their abusers, their addictions, their dysfunctions, or their selfish ways? Egh. Maybe. Probably. All too often, definitely.
But if their return to captivity nullifies my joy…well then, I was serving the wrong master anyway. The gift of service through Christ is one that I receive – I am fed, enriched and blessed as I allow it to pour into me and out through me.
In one way, it’s not about me – in the sense of the matter of what’s done with my gift given. I am asked to serve, NOT to monitor what’s done with the gift of my service. That part of the equation is really none of my business, despite what common thought says to the contrary. Results are Christ’s business and no one else’s.
In another way, it’s all about me – it’s what He does in me, as He works through me…and it’s thoroughly wonderful in even its most unglamorous expressions. That His love would handcraft such a perfectly personalized position just for me – well, it makes me feel the magnitude of His favor, to a dizzying extent.
Have I saved anyone yet? No, I haven’t, and life is good. For every person who asks me the question, my prayer is that they will receive a gift that wrecks their every notion of service, and soon.
Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.