Lenten Reflection – Judith

Lenten Meditation

The Reluctant Servant

Judith L. Drew, PhD, CRC -2.20.13

When Rebecca asked me to do this, I had several thoughts. The first was why me?  Quickly followed by the second, what do I have to offer?

And of course, the third, the inevitable self-doubt.  Could I do this? After all, it would not be like what I normally do every day. This would be sharing my thoughts on my faith when my faith is still a work in progress.  You see, when it comes to my faith, I am truly unfinished business and a seeker.

As I thought about doing this Lenten meditation, I first marveled at Rebecca and Claudia’s ability to provide food for thought each week in their sermons. They set a high bar!

Then I realized I just need to speak from my heart.  Once I realized that, I knew I could tell you this much – my faith is at the heart of all that I am and all that I do.  If you will bear with me, I would like to tell you how I know that much for sure….

To understand my faith now, you need to know where I came from. It is a brief tale of a reluctant servant and of church, no church, and a faith reborn.

I was brought up in the Nazarene church, a fundamental Christian protestant denomination.  Most of my family were very devout Christians. My grandfather was a legendary church elder in Providence and was well known all over New England on the camp meeting circuit.  He was born in 1880 and in his 30’s he was shot through the heart. The doctors said it would kill him at any time. It never did. He died at the age of 98 praising God all the way.

People called him the “Singing, Shining, Shouting Saint” because wherever he went he praised the Lord. He told people about this miracle in his life. He thanked God for His blessings; and he told everyone he ever met (and I do mean everyone he ever met) that they needed to be saved. They had to be ready to meet Jesus.  As a teenager, he regularly embarrassed me with his fervor about being saved.  Imagine my embarrassment when he even said this to my boyfriend!

There were many influences from my early church years. Rather than praising God like my Grandfather, what growing up in that church meant to me as a child, and then as a teenager , was a long list of things I could not do – such as go to movies, or Sunday restrictions such as no playing with friends, watching TV or doing homework. (That part I didn’t mind!)

Being part of this church also meant there were things I had to do. I had to believe in the Bible as the literal Word of God, otherwise I was going to go to hell. It did not matter that the creation story in Genesis existed in the writings of other cultures pre-dating the Bible (as I learned at my Nazarene college and gleefully told my parents on a week-end visit home).

Attending this church also meant there were other things I had to do: go to services on Sunday mornings for worship, Sunday nights for prayer and praise service and Wednesday nights for prayer service again. (I knew every crack in the pews and wooden floors beneath my knees because we knelt during our long prayer services).

I remember it also meant that when Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles to the world on his Sunday night show, I was in church! Can you imagine what it was like to be a 7th grader in school the next day and hear everyone talking about the Beatles having no idea what they were talking about?  I was so embarrassed, and too embarrassed to tell them I was in church!

As I look back at that time, I realize now that these experiences became the crucible for my journey of faith. They caused me to search for what the true meaning of faith was to me. Even as a teenager, I knew deep down inside it was not the rules of the church, or the professions of faith I heard at altar calls… instead, I knew it was how I chose to live my life each day. Somehow, even then, I knew that faith meant action to me. I could not just profess it; I had to live it.

I heard messages about a loving God, but I wondered why a loving God would send people to hell who had never heard of him, or people who were gay, or people who drank, or people who believed in different gods and worshipped differently than we did. It did not make sense to me.  When I asked these questions of my parents or my church elders, I was told that is why we have to save them. We were right and they were wrong. Simple, right?  My head and my heart told me this was not right.

The clear message that I heard week in and week out was if you were not saved, you were going to hell. Because I could not, and did not accept these beliefs early on, I knew from the get go, I was surely going to hell!  By the time I was 16, I thought I was a lost cause.

Missionaries who came to our church also had a huge influence on me because they talked about their calling. Often my Mom, the chair of the Missions Committee, would invite the missionaries to our home for dinner after church. I developed my love of travel and a curiosity about other cultures and people because of these experiences.

But more importantly, even as a teenager, when I listened to them talk about how they were called to serve God, I longed to feel that call. I wanted a life that mattered.  I wanted to do good in the world.  However, I felt that I was a heathen and a sinner; I was damaged goods because I could never live up to the expectations of my church, and therefore my God.  It was just too overwhelming.

I remember listening to sermons on the text from Isaiah 6:8 when the Lord asked “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah responded “Here I am, send me.”

Although I felt that yearning, I rebelled against the notion that I would ever want to make a full commitment to serving God. I thought why would God want me? I am not good enough.

During college and early adulthood – the period I call my religious rebellion – I was very happy to be done with Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights and to get away from the church. (I still had to tolerate chapel twice a week since my Nazarene church college required it).

The rebellious Me did everything I could to stay away from chapel, organized religion, and anything that had to do with God during my college years and for many years beyond. I thought church just did not fit the Me I wanted to be. I could not find my faith.

However, at the same time I felt a deep emptiness. I had a gnawing feeling that something was missing in my life. I searched for a vocation and believed that teaching children with special needs would fill the void. Although it did for a while, something was still missing. I was fortunate to marry my high school sweetheart and best friend (my grandfather did not scare him away!) and thought the emptiness will go away now, but something was still missing.

After Bob and I were married for a few years I began to talk to him about missing church in my life. We had both gone to church regularly growing up; he was a Baptist. We both were interested in religious studies and had studied religion in college. It led to many lively discussions about the meaning of faith throughout our dating and marriage. We read, discussed and argued about the meaning of the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, and others as we searched for meaning in our lives beyond our daily work and marriage.

Throughout this time I felt I had lost my faith. While I never became an agnostic, I just wondered – does God exist, and if so, what is the meaning of God in my life? I constantly struggled with these questions and often read the Book of Job and the Psalms because the writings resonated with me. It was my wilderness experience.

Then the moment came when I realized I did not want to stay away from organized faith anymore. There was no epiphany or grand event. I believe it was God’s voice whispering to me ever so gently.  Judi, I am here…..waiting for you when you are ready! Boy, what patience He showed!!!

I began listening to Sunday church services on the radio. I could not believe that I, the reluctant servant and religious rebel, was actually searching for God… What was happening to me???? Where had my religious rebellion gone????

I started looking for a church. After several months I found a community of faith that I could identify with and where Bob and I felt welcome. For the first time, I began to enjoy being part of a church, the friendships that were developing, the beautiful music, and the joy of being with like-minded people who also valued exploring their faith and its meaning in their lives.  My faith began to bloom, but something was still missing.

I realized that I still had not answered the call I felt so many years before. I still was not ready to say “Here I am, send me” because I did not know what I was being sent to do.

The turning point came with my father’s mental illness. His first suicide attempt was when I was 3 months pregnant with my son. For the next 20 years I lived with his mental illness, trying to provide emotional support to my Mom, and trying to make sure that the mental health system did not lose track of my Dad so that he got the care he needed, even when he did not want it.

God, my God, was there with me through this dark time, lifting me up when I felt I could not take it anymore. He was my solace and my Rock along with the love and support of my husband, son, family and friends.

During this time I was re-reading Dag Hammarksjold’s book Markings. It is compilation of his reflections while he served as the Secretary General of the UN. In it he records his gradual discovery of saying YES to helping his neighbors and what that fate would mean in his service to the world community.

In a reflection he wrote for Edward R. Murrow’s radio show he shared the following:

“the beliefs in which I was once brought up and, which had given my life direction even while my intellect was still challenging their validity, were recognized by me as mine in their own right and by my free choice… and informed me how a life of active social service fully in harmony with me … led to self-surrender, self-realization, and the strength to say YES to every demand the needs of neighbors made and YES to every fate life had in store for me”.

It was as if he was speaking straight to me from the pages of his book and inspired me to follow my calling.

I finally answered the call with “Here I am, send me”.  I completed my Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling knowing that this was what I was supposed to be doing. I realized I did not have to be a missionary or a minister to save people’s souls; I could minister to people through my work and help them save their lives.

As I began working to improve the lives of people with disabilities and their families, especially those with severe and persistent mental illness, I realized that God had been preparing me right along to serve Him in this way. He had given me the precious gifts of compassion, empathy and clinical insight that family members so desperately needed when dealing with the complexities of the mental health system. I began to understand the meaning of the word servant and vocation in a way I never had before, and found great joy in my work.

This is where I am now – finding great joy as a reluctant servant, following God’s plan for my life, and having the great pleasure of sharing my faith journey with a wonderful church community and my friends at Central.

You may be wondering, what does this have to do with Lent? When I ponder the meaning of Lent, I look to Jesus’ examples of being a servant.  He bathed the feet of his disciples; He served the hungry by giving them food; He gave those who were thirsty water to drink; He ate with the lowliest of people in society; and He taught us to love each other as ourselves and to do it unto the least of these. And as if that were not enough, He made the ultimate sacrifice – I am awed by the fact that He gave his life for me, as undeserving as I may be….

For so many people Lent means giving up and denying themselves something that is important to them. For me, instead of Lent being a time of giving up and denying, it is a time of recommitment and sharing.

For me, Lent is a time to

…pause and recommit to being the servant God has called me to be;
…be thankful for the gifts God has given me and for His patience in helping me learn how I can use these gifts to honor His sacrifice on the cross;
…stop being a reluctant servant and to be open to all the ways He guides me to help those in need; and finally,
…be grateful for the love He showed me to help me find my path, in spite of myself.

In closing I want to share a prayer from Markings that has been inspirational to me.

Give me a pure heart – that I may see Thee;
A humble heart – that I may hear Thee;
A heart of love – that I may serve Thee;
A heart of faith – that I may abide in Thee.


I asked that we sing the Servant Song for this mediation since it sums up for me what I think Lent is all about: understanding that the message Jesus brought to us, and died for, was to be open to serving others in the name of his Father.

Here are the words of the Servant Song

Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, we are travelers on the road,
We are here to help each other go the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear,
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow ‘til we see this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony,
Born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.

Posted in Lenten Reflections, Lenten Reflections Archive.