About three months ago, I realized people would apologize every time they came into my office.
“I’m sorry to bother you. I know you’re really busy, but…” is how the conversations would either start or end.
As I recognized the pattern, I recognized the common denominator in every apology was me. I had let the reality of my internal struggle with an overloaded to-do list bleed out onto others so much so that they all apologized for coming to talk to me.
I thought about the words of Mark 12:30-31 (NIV) where Jesus answers the question “What is the greatest commandment?” with the words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
I was failing at loving others, and I knew it. I had let my busy to-do list full of deadlines and projects come before the emotional needs of others. I thought how grateful I was that I never had to apologize in my day to God for interrupting him with my seemingly petty requests in the big scheme of the problems He oversees daily.
I was reminded of Philippians 2:3 (NIV), which reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
I asked God to humble me. I asked him to help me deprioritize my to-do list and repriorioritize my desire to love people when they need it.
There are still a few times each week when I have to shut the door and put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign because deadlines have to be met. My coworkers know in those moments, I am not trying to avoid them, I am trying to ensure my essential duties are completed on-time. Since those duties typically involve payroll or essential financial functions around the church, I get grace for having the door shut (or at least, I find solace in believing they understand).
But most of the time, my door is always open, and I have come to appreciate the words a mentor of mine once shared, “There will still be things on your to-do list when you die.”
One of my busiest days of every week is Wednesday. Volunteers come to count the deposit before I process it. I process our online giving. I usually have all the pieces for the newsletter and sermon notes coming in and try to have it done by end of day. I have a financial meeting in the afternoon with hard deadlines for checks and invoices to be ready. Usually there are things that need to be completed before Wednesday night services, too.
Which is why last Wednesday, God gave me the greatest lesson in my request to become more humble and value loving people over doing projects.
Around noon, I was covering for the receptionist who was attending an online training when she paged me to the front to help a lady. Initially, I thought the lady was a salesperson asking, “May I simply have 10 minutes of your time?”
I ushered her to my office, where I sat down beside her without any form of communication device near me. Less than 5 minutes into the conversation, I realized she was at the point of wanting to end her life.
“Let me call our executive pastor. I am in marketing and finance. I believe he is equipped to assist you so much better than I can,” I vividly remember saying.
“No. You don’t need to call anyone. You can talk, can’t you?” she asked in a tone of desperation mixed with an ironically reassuring look upon her face that I was the one she needed to talk to.
Petrified I might say the wrong thing, I remember praying, “God, give me the words to say.”
The situation wasn’t abnormal to me. During my tenure working in EMS, I sat on multiple occasions with colleagues needing to talk through tough calls, hard situations at home, or frustrations in life.
I decided to trust God.
For 20 minutes I heard her story and let her talk. I realized she had lost her purpose in life, and more importantly, her faith in God. What neither of us realized at the time was that God had led her to the church … specifically to my office and later to another woman He needed her to meet. He knew we all needed each other that day.
When she started asking me pointed and poignant questions about God forsaking her and the reality that she knew He didn’t exist at all and was a hoax, I knew I could share my testimony. But I felt an overwhelming desire to get backup from someone with more Biblical knowledge than myself.
God answered my prayer for assistance when the lady asked me what exit she should get off of on an interstate at least two hours north of us. That’s when we both realized she was lost in the physical sense, too.
I asked to grab my phone so we could look at a map. I sent a quick TXT to our executive pastor for assistance before showing her where I thought she’d gotten off course and how to get back on track.
Long story short, we helped each other that day. She stayed to join us for our church meal that evening and visited for another hour with a dear friend of mine who was a licensed counselor. I was able to check-in on her a few times as she read a book in our library to pass some time while I was in my meeting. I was able to sit with her again later that day and share how the purpose we think we want in life is grandiose, but the reality is, we fulfill purposes in life every day and are totally unaware that we do.
I shared how she told me she had stopped at a lot of churches over the last few years and asked to speak with someone, only to be told no one was available and ushered out quickly with what seemed like scripted messages. How that had led her partly to not believe in the church and what it was supposed to represent.
I told her that over the last year, in many ways, we had become the same church. I explained how our staffing had shrunk and we were all wearing so many hats that we often requested people make an appointment to visit with a pastor.
Then I asked her, “Do you remember earlier today? When I wanted to call someone in and have them visit with you instead of me visiting?”
“You told me you wanted to talk to me, and we talked. And I realized God brought you here because He needed someone to tell me I didn’t have to be a pastor to talk. I just needed to be willing to share my testimony. And had you not stayed today, you never would’ve heard how you stopping at the church changed my life. And it didn’t just change my life. Do you think you’ll be the last person who walks through those doors asking for 10 minutes of time when we literally don’t have a pastor available?”
She shook her head no.
“Then what you also don’t see is that God used the pain you were going through to make a difference in the lives of each of those people who may come during my tenure at the church. I promise you, I will never again ask them to make an appointment. So while you may not see it right now, God has a purpose for everything. Your purpose today was very important to this church and the way He wants us to welcome people into His house.”
She smiled, and while there’s a lot more to that story I didn’t share, the best part of it is where I will end it.
Last night, I checked my email before going to bed. At the top of the inbox sat an unread message with the subject, “Angel in disguise.”
The email went on to say, “My computer has been in the shop! Got home two days ago. My experience with you was the highlight on my trip! Your friendship far surpasses any relationships I have seen in the church. Tina, thanks for being there that day and genuinely hugging me. I have been so isolated for years. I don’t remember a hug. It was the best night’s sleep! Remember me when you pray.”
I cried tears of joy. I prayed the most grateful prayer I have ever prayed to God for the lessons He taught me through someone else’s pain. I thanked him for letting our paths intertwine and reminding me that people matter more than projects and her that our purpose in life is simpler than what we are searching for.
In 1 Peter 4:8-10 (NIV) God’s Word teaches, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
Last Thursday morning, my daughter gave me a sticker with three little happy peas sitting in a pod. I placed it on my computer as a reminder to always place PEOPLE OVER PROJECTS!