I burst into tears.1 It was one of those comments made occasionally by even the most sensitive of husbands as he dares to go where female friends fear to tread: “Jess made some yummy gluten-free sandwiches for the staff meeting today. You should get the recipe!”
“Sandwiches? Sandwiches? Did you say sandwiches?” That was my anguished cry, followed by a certain amount of, well, crying. “The staff team will never want to meet at our house again! How can I ever live up to that? I know, I know I don’t have to, but how can I? And no, I’m not making those sandwiches! Get Jess to make them for you!” (Okay, so maybe I made up that last sentence, but you get the gist.)
My husband listened patiently to my tantrum, hugged me, and reassured me that he loved me, sandwiches or no sandwiches; but no amount of reassurance could quite take away what I was feeling.
Al and Jess are friends who recently returned from theological studies in Sydney to take up work alongside my husband in university ministry. We trained them years ago, and were excited to welcome them back. Even better, they moved nearby; and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s the value of having a good friend who lives just down the street.
But I was about to discover something about Jess. When the staff team meets in our house, they’re lucky to get a packet of chocolate biscuits and, on a good day, some store-bought dip and crackers. At Jess’s place, there’s a constant stream of home-made delicacies – pastries, summer rolls, and, yes, sandwiches – all healthy, skilfully made, and delicious.
Not only that, but they’re supplied in a clean, organised house: open Jess’s pantry, and instead of ten half-eaten boxes of cereal falling on your head, you’ll see three boxes lined up in a neat row. My discipline is slightly haphazard, whereas hers is carefully thought out and consistent. She jogs; I sit. When I waste a morning composing a blog post (right now I’ve interrupted my vacuuming to write this) she probably cleaned the bathrooms, bought and put away some shopping, and cooked a three-course meal for the Bible study at her place tonight.
Jess belongs to that rarest of threatened species – cue David Attenborough whispering, in reverent tones, “Here we see the Domestic Goddess in her natural habitat…” – and she puts my erratic attempts at homemaking and hospitality to shame.
A few days after my fit of tears, I sat across from Jess at her (carefully wiped) table (cups, jug and snacks set out between us) and laughed about how intimidated I was by her (admittedly delicious) sandwich fillings. Then Jess said something that stopped me in my tracks: “Don’t you realise you’ve intimidated me for years? All that writing, all those blog posts! I could never do that!”
That day we metaphorically shook hands, celebrated our different gifts, and agreed that we would never allow ourselves to be intimidated by each other again.
I was reminded that God’s gifts come in many shapes and colours. To some he gives gifts of hospitality and service, to others gifts of teaching, to still others (and these I find the most astounding) gifts of evangelism (Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4:11-13). Then he wraps us up and gives us to each other.
There’s no place for the foot asking, “Why can’t I be a hand?”, or the hand asking, “Why can’t I be a foot?” or, in the case of ambitious perfectionists like me, “Why can’t I be a hand and a foot and a knee and a neck and a shoulder and a…?” (1 Cor 12:12-27). There’s no room for comparisons or envy or ambition in this body (Phil 2:1-11).
We’re not given strengths and skills to win recognition for ourselves, to get people to like us, or to show off how smart or loving we are. We’re given them to serve one another in love, and to help each other grow up into Christ (Rom 12:3-8; Eph 4:7-16). There’s no “self” in the gifts we have, only a “you” – and a “Him”.
Of course, I still have my moments. Gorgeous photos of Jess’ famous chocolate torte and lemon pie on Facebook, complete with comments and requests for recipes,2 rub a little
salt sugar in my wounds. “Isn’t the Internet my territory?”, asks my baser self. (And, yes, please do keep posting them online, dear Facebook friends, it’s good for me – and Jess.)
But then I tell myself to shut up and get over it, to put others ahead of myself, to remember that my true value is found in Jesus, and to rejoice that there’s something in each of us that we can point to and say, “Wow! It’s wonderful how you do this for the rest of us! And you do it so very well! Thanks be to God who made you and gave you this gift!”
I’m going to stop writing now. I’ll take a moment to thank God for Jess, and then get back to my vacuuming and inexpert lasagna making. You see, we’ve got a Bible study at our place tonight, and while there will be no home-made chocolate torte (probably a Coles one), we’re going to encourage each other, learn from my husband as he brings God’s word to us, and delight in the varied gifts we bring to our time together. And if I’m tempted to ask why I have to cook when my hubbie gets to teach the Bible, I’ll give myself in a swift kick, tell myself “Princess, it’s not about you”, and pray:
Thank you, Father, for the opportunity to serve, both in ways I’m good at and in ways I’m not so good at. Both do my soul a world of good.
In the name of your humbly serving Son (Phil 2:1-11),
- I challenge my fellow Sola Panel writers to start a post with those four words. You can do it, blokes! ↩
- If you want the recipe for Jess’s chocolate torte recipe, head on over to my blog. (I did consider making this the first ever recipe posted at The Briefing, but thought better of it, a fact for which my editor is probably devoutly grateful.) ↩