Monday Matters (October 12, 2015)


In 1970, the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge went to Calcutta to interview Mother Teresa. As he learned about the work she was doing in the slums, he began his interview by asking:

MM: Do you do this every day?
MT: Oh, yes, it is my mission. It is how I serve and love my Lord.
MM: How long have you been doing this? How many months?
MT: Months? Not months, but years. Maybe eighteen years.
MM: Eighteen years! You’ve been working here in these streets for eighteen years?
MT: Yes, it is my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.
MM: Do you ever get tired? Do you ever feel like quitting and letting someone else take over your ministry? After all, you are beginning to get older.

MM: Oh, no, this is where the Lord wants me, and this is where I am happy to be. I feel young when I am here. The Lord is so good to me. How privileged I am to serve him.

For those of us who have occasionally lost direction or battled burnout, her witness of persistence is remarkable. Of course, since her death in 1997, we have learned that her long life of service was marked by private passages of doubt, discouragement and despair. That is true of many holy people. But at one point in her ministry, she was asked how she could face the overwhelming poverty, when her daily work seemed to make absolutely no dent, no difference. When asked what kept her going, she responded: God calls me to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

Her comment came to mind when I was asked to give a talk at church about the ways we might address global issues, about what works and what might work better. I was honored to talk about the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, which does a stellar job of responding to needs around the world, with hard work and creativity that look a lot like success. I was also struck with the ways we face problems, locally, ecclesiastically, nationally and globally, problems that seem insurmountable. We face them all the time, but right now I’m thinking of challenges like the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the racial divide in our own country, the inability to address issues of gun violence. To me, it often looks like there may be no successful solutions, at least none I can help bring about. In spite of all that, we are called to faithfulness.

I think about the church, and the challenges facing those who care about the church, serve in the church, hope for the church. In my travels around the church, I meet heroic people who work with minimal resources, with entrenched resistance to change, with dwindling attendance. It can seem as if efforts may not make a difference. How do we focus on faithfulness when success seems elusive?

I think about each one of our lives, the great variety of ways that people are called, as followers of Jesus, to take up the cross, whatever that cross may look like. I think of quiet endurance, in relationships and situations that are burdensome or broken. I marvel at the ways people keep on keeping on, living faithfully, even if in the world’s terms they are not successful in healing the situation. What is God asking you to do and be this week, in your household, at work? Is there a situation there that seems to defy success? Think about your place in the church, in the community of faith. Think about your call as a global citizen, in a world marked by challenges. We are not promised success in resolving all the challenges that surface in those places. We are called to faithfulness, which sounds a lot like trusting the concerns of our heart to the one from whose love we can never be separated, the one whose character is faithfulness.

Today, think more about what it means to be faithful and worry less about what it means to be successful.

– Jay Sidebotham

Definition of success: the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
Definition of faithful:  strict or thorough in the performance of duty; true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.; steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant:
Philippians 3:10-14: St. Paul, writing from a prison cell, where by many accounts his ministry would be viewed as failure:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


Jay SidebothamContact:

Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.