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Setting Aside Advantages

I did my last two days with Habitat this week. With August almost done, I will soon trade my hard hat for pencils and lesson plans as preparation for a new school year is ahead of me. As I nailed wire mesh and vinyl siding and worked beside friends this week, I reflected further on how God has been with me through my days with Habitat.

I know I’ve written about Habitat more than once in this blog already, so you’ll have to humor me, but the experience was rich for reflecting. Like usual when I extend myself, at first I want to do anything but move out of my comfort zone and sacrifice “me time”. The days almost always began with me wondering, “Why am I doing this again? Someone remind me!”, especially if the temperatures promised to soar into the 30’s. Wouldn’t I rather be sleeping or tackling my famous to-do’s in my air-conditioned house?

But other thoughts play through my mind at the same time. I know how too many days puttering alone at home can give me too much time to “think”. My eternal insecurities start to take over, like weeds in a garden with no direction. When the days that I committed to with Habitat come up, despite the initial resistance, I am almost always relieved to be given structure and a task. 

It’s not just about keeping busy. It’s that the vision of Habitat starts to make me happy as I pick up my hammer.  I am given the privilege of serving something outside myself. In this case, it is helping to build houses for people who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to buy decent housing on their own. The task itself is enormous, and my contribution is incredibly tiny, but there is immense satisfaction in doing it. Somehow, despite the heat and the discomforts, I receive way more than I give.

I receive the privilege of meeting all kinds of people. These are ordinary people like me, but I believe that the vision of Habitat brings out the best in people. I have been blessed to meet many homeowners who work alongside us as they complete their sweat equity hours. If I had to describe them with one word, it would be “grateful”. Many of them have experienced the hard knocks of life, through war, poverty,  and cultural disadvantages, yet they have been given them an unexpected gift of stable, quality housing. Many of them juggle two jobs and struggle to find child care to finish their hours, but they are gracious and grateful people. Four summers ago when I met and worked with my first homeowner, I watched her tear up as she told me how the new beginning she was receiving through the house was giving her hope.  “It’s changed my life,” she told me with gratitude. She had many of us over for more than one meal to express her thanks.

I’ve also been blessed to meet many people from many walks of life. I’m always curious to find out what led them to volunteer and I start to ask questions. One woman last year volunteered in honor of a friend who passed away. Others come because, like me, they love this kind of work and have always wanted to help out. Still others come as part of their company’s commitment to annual community volunteer work. Many are teachers, like me, with too much time on their hands. Some people are retired and want to stay involved in life. What unites us all is putting aside our own agendas to commit to a common vision.

I also receive the great gift of “hands and heart” both being kept occupied at once. I grew up with a handyman dad, but when I helped him, we had a combination of a willful teenager (me) working with my dad who (God bless him) was a bit of a perfectionist! Though I have inherited his inclination to be a “handy-person” (and a perfectionist!), it was not a happy combo at the time. The supervisors at Habitat almost always have a good sense of humor as they work with us. They help us all relax as the sometimes hapless volunteers bumble our way through our work.

So, you might be wondering, how exactly is this “God”? Couldn’t someone who wasn’t calling themselves a Christian receive the same joys in volunteering? I’m sure they could, but I have the particular lens on life of desiring to live like my friend and hero Jesus. This week, I read a passage in scripture which helped me decide on this week’s blog theme. It’s quite a famous passage in the New Testament, written over 2000 years ago, where this guy named Paul the apostle wrote a poem describing what Jesus did when he came to earth. Jesus is considered “God’s son”. If we think of Queen Elizabeth’s sons and grandsons, we think of lives of incredible privilege and advantage. Despite Harry and William losing their mom tragically, they have had every advantage a human being could get.

Jesus was the son, not of “royal blood” (what does that even mean?), but of the ruler of the universe! Paul’s poem in the book of Philippians, however, says that Jesus gave up all that status to come to earth, become human like us, tell about the vision of his Father and be killed for it. Not only did he get killed for it, but instead of thinking of revenge, he just prayed asking for forgiveness for his killers, telling God that they didn’t really know what they were doing.

As a follower of Jesus, I want to be like him. Despite my often wayward actions which contradict my deepest intentions, this is what I want most dearly in life. Here’s a portion of that famous poem, which I read in that passage this week, and took along as I worked at Habitat:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, become human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges… Philippians 2:5-8 (The Message translation)

The poem goes on to say that this humbling process led to his death, but that God in his creativity honored him “far beyond anyone or anything” by making death not be the last word.

I was thinking about this passage yesterday, and realized that work with Habitat is something Jesus would have loved. He would have worked alongside immigrants who have escaped refugee camps, many of whom are misunderstood by society because of the color of their skin or the rough edges of war. He would have taken joy in meeting Aboriginals who won’t let themselves be defined by their past. He would have smiled in seeing people who were looking beyond themselves, searching for meaning outside themselves and our materialistic North American culture. He would have loved the many fine people who have seen a vision and stake their lives on it. Jesus would have also had fun swinging a hammer, since he was a carpenter!

All these people, some of whom come from privilege and opportunity like me, have set aside advantages to work. So much of society encourages us to say, “Me and mine first!” but I believe that the life of sacrifice and letting go of status is the way to happiness. I’m grateful to have been given the example of Jesus who has given me a path to follow and helps me every step of the way, despite the many times I forget.

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