A Life’s Usefulness

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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What springs to your mind when someone mentions the word "poet"? Starving artist? Irresponsible idealist? Literary egotist? Amoral rebel? All of the above?

Hmm. That's what I was afraid of. You see, I've been a believer in the living Christ and also a serious poet and writer as far back as I can remember; and my impression is that people who knew of my literary vocation would look askance at me, wondering—"Who does she think she is? What kind of 'work' does she think she's doing? Why is a Christian wasting time writing poems? Can't she get a real job?"

By and large, the Christian community and wider American culture seem to view creative writers as peripheral, even frivolous—consumers rather than contributors to society. Despite the long hours at my computer, the labor of research and observation, the frustrating deadlines, I knew I had to take time and do something to correct that negative impression.

Some of my poet friends and I took up the challenge. We determined that in our individual church communities, we would begin to follow Jesus' example of servant leadership and prove ourselves useful to our churches, even in low-profile but necessary tasks like janitorial work, coffee-hour preparation, Sunday School teaching, secretarial work, volunteering, helping at the food bank, driving older church members to and from the church, outreach to street people, you name it—things that need to be done without fanfare, but in the name of Christ.

Henri Nouwen, scholar, brilliant writer and teacher, much in demand for his perceptive insights about the Christian life, had always wanted to say, write, or be something "different" or "special" that would provoke notice and talk. Never satisfied, he finally retreated from his increasingly hectic professional life to find his true place in Christ, his authentic identity, away from the blaze of fame. He withdrew for seven months to a monastery in the Genesee Valley. His question: "How to live for the glory of God and not for my own glory?"

In The Genesee Diary, he tells of life in the monastery with brother monks and menial tasks such as sorting through raisins in the monastery bakery and lifting heavy stones from the riverbed. He practiced the disciplines of work, solitude, and prayer, and lived the fruitful community life of serving and being served without special recognition but with love and purposefulness. Later he wrote, In the Name of Jesus, a book about his life in the L'Arche community for the mentally handicapped—all about servant leadership, the kind Jesus practiced when he washed the feet of his friends, and commended to them and to us.

Can we look forward to that time in our lives when Jesus himself might finally say to us, "I'm not calling you servants, but friends"?


• Besides earning a living, how does your work energize you?

• How might your life and lifestyle be affected if servanthood were part of your job description?