March 10, 2010

March 10: The promise of abundance

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By Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 32 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL:
I felt the heaviness of the room envelop me as I walked through the glass double doors, the security guard locking them behind me. It was 4 p.m. and I was the last person allowed into the local Social Security office. The waiting room was still full; two long, silent rows of people; faces etched with anxiety, fear and sadness; gloom wrapping them about like a shroud. This was the recession personified.

Almost immediately, my name was called and I moved forward to claim the appointment I had made three weeks before. A woman, perhaps in her mid-fifties, greeted me, then pulled up my “case” on her computer screen. She turned to me expectantly. With anxiety tripping up my words, I began to describe why we couldn’t possibly owe $36,000 of (alleged) overpaid disability benefits from years before.

She listened carefully, jotted a few notes, then pulled up more data on her screen. I waited, not knowing, trying to intuit what would come next.

I was astonished by what did come next. In the space of a few minutes and without an ounce of judgment, she replaced my anxiety with peace of mind. She understood why I was anxious, she said, but the next part of the process was hers to worry about. It was her job, in these next weeks, to figure out what happened and why; then she would work with me to decide how to address it. She promised to work with me until the end of the process. “It will be okay,” she said simply. “You don’t need to worry.”

I stared at her, almost undone by her compassion. Feeling an immense sense of relief, I asked her, “How can you be like this, working with sad and difficult stories every day, all day long?”

Her eyes brightened and she leaned toward me as if sharing a secret. “I love my work,” she said, with passion. “At the end of every day I go home and know that I made a difference for at least one person that day. What could be better?”

I was deeply moved; the power of her spirit transformed mine. If the people in the outer room embodied the distress of the recession, the woman in this cubical embodied the promise of abundance.

“Besides,” she then added, with a grin, “They don’t pay me nearly enough to be mean and grumpy.”

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 32 (NRSV)
Of David. A Maskil.
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Selah

Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
Selah

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.

Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

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Comments (32)

  1. Carolyn, Thank you for this wonderful meditation. It lifted my spirits. May we all approach our work as that miracle-working Social Security employee does. You’ve just illustrated how we can be answers to each others’ prayers.

    Ann Hostetler March 10, 2010 |
  2. What a beautiful story, Carolyn. You show us your vulnerability and the way Jesus embodied this woman in a position often derided as a “bureaucrat.” It encourages me to approach my work like her. Think how joyful more of us would be at the end of the day.

    Tony March 10, 2010 |
  3. Thank-you for this WONDERFUL story which fits so well the scriptures for today! It has touched a needy spot in my life!

    K Holsopple March 10, 2010 |
  4. Thanks for sharing an uplifting real life ‘story’.

    Rita Miller March 10, 2010 |
  5. Beautiful! It’s the little things that make such a difference!

    Rachel Pellman March 10, 2010 |
  6. Thank-you Carolyn for this inspiring, heart touching example of the Psalmists message for today! You still have the heart of a nurse!! I love it!
    Vicky

    Vicky March 10, 2010 |
  7. Carolyn, Psalm 32 speaks in a fresh way today. Thanks.

    Patricia March 10, 2010 |
  8. Carolyn, your story brought tears to my eyes. It is a good reminder of how God takes care of our burdens if we are willing to let go of them and leave them in God’s hands.

    Betty March 10, 2010 |
  9. Thanks for sharing your experience. It gave me more compassion for those who sit amd wait but have no one to turn to for help or understanding.

    Mary K. Mishler March 10, 2010 |
  10. What a beautiful story. What makes me hopeful is your ability to SEE the goodness in the woman across the table from you, the capacity to HEAR her words, and FEEL her kindness. In your courage to see this goodness you found peace in the midst of wilderness.

    Julie March 10, 2010 |
  11. Thank you, Carolyn. Very healing words for today.

    Faye Nyce March 10, 2010 |
  12. Thank you, Carolyn. Your story carries more insight and compassion than any philosophizing about topics ever could!

    Deb B March 10, 2010 |
  13. This one will stick with me all day. Thank you, Carolyn.

    susan garboden March 10, 2010 |
  14. Great story about the Social Security office. Sometimes, relief from worry and help comes from the most unexpected people, in an unexpcted time and manner. It’s easy to expcet help and for God to “speak” to us in church or in quiter meditative prayer times. It’s GREAT to have him speak to us through others, in the workplace, and it is a lesson for us to also be bearers of unexpected relief to others. The Psalm of the day is also great; five tears ago I was in despair and trouble, someone helped me, God helped me and Iwas was and remain preserved from major troubles… These devotions are very welcome and I work in the Defense industry!!!;.)

    Richard Fohrenbach March 10, 2010 |
  15. Truly one of the best, most moving stories I’ve heard this season. Thanks, Carolyn!

    Sheldon C. Good March 10, 2010 |
  16. Hi Carolyn, You may not remember me but I was touched by your story with the social security office. And that you called our attention to those who are in need and have trouble getting those needs met.
    I met your delightful son, Caleb Monday night with the Hesston Choir at MCMC. He played the violin and sang. I talked to him about having run across you and Dave on our way to MCC Indonesia and again at the wedding of Charleta and Tim by the lake. You may not remember me but you are in my prayers alway. Love to you Faye
    Brenneman of Palmer Lake, Colorado
    Charleta is the niece of Clair.

    Faye Brenneman March 10, 2010 |
  17. What a good reminder that acts of compassion do make a difference in people’s lives. The Psalmist image of the mule is a good one…a reminder to let ourselves be open to the good things of God brought to us daily.

    Janet Jantzi Yoder March 10, 2010 |
  18. Great testimony and I have been praying all morning asking the Lord for an extra blessing on this dear lady and the testimony she can give each day. It is tough out there and may the Lord use her to refresh souls.

    Nila March 10, 2010 |
  19. Thanks Carolyn for this wonderful story that illustrates God being with us and working through us despite the sadness and darkness. I don’t have any way of knowing if it was the same person, but I was once walking a friend with mental health challenges through the “disability” system and found a similarly compassionate caseworker. She amazed me.

    Tim Stair March 10, 2010 |
  20. I want to demonstrate the kind of contentment and love for others that the SS lady showed. Especially as one who trusts in the Lord and has all the benefits of this Psalm! You, Carolyn, are to be commended for asking the question. So often we are touched by something but keep it to ourselves. How powerful are kind and healing words! Thanks for passing this along.

    Ruth March 10, 2010 |
  21. This story definitely brought tears to my eyes – hopeful tears. This woman blessed you, and you have blessed us in turn. Thank you so much.

    jane March 10, 2010 |
  22. Carolyn, thank you for sharing this powerful story!

    Donna Mast March 10, 2010 |
  23. Wow, what a story! (I learn best from stories.) Thank you, Carolyn, for teaching in *all* the ways you do here at GC!

    Lisa Guedea Carreno March 10, 2010 |
  24. Timely…timely…..

    Emily Jantzi March 10, 2010 |
  25. My experience last week of five days inpatient treatment for an intractable migraine helped me connect with Carolyn’s story of anxiety in face of the unknown. I was able to see that there are those who exude joy and holy confidence in worrisome situations and are agents of God’s steadfast love and peace that we need at the time.I rejoiced that such caregivers were assigned to me!

    Anne Kinard March 10, 2010 |
  26. What a beautiful and well-told story. It’s so gospel in its unexpected ending, and the way the Spirit of God catches us unaware and helps us see anew.

    Karl March 10, 2010 |
  27. Thank you for your story re the SS Office. It restores faith in the wisdom and kindness of some of our public service workers! May God bless this good woman.

    Ethel Umble March 11, 2010 |
  28. As others have mentioned, this sort of testimony to the work of the Spirit in the world moves us deeply, especially in this broken world with such every day in-your-face experiences of strife and despair. Yay for the SSA, and for seeing beyond the challenge to the opportunity! And for tying our smaller stories into God’s Big Story! Thanks, Carolyn.

    Heidi Siemens-Rhodes March 11, 2010 |
  29. Thanks, Carolyn, for your Lenten Meditation. It was as good as my informant said it was. I enjoyed with you the comment about Caleb. Love, Ann

    Ann March 11, 2010 |
  30. I can identify with this story about the incident at the social security office. I’ve worked at the unemployment office for years and my job is to solve problems so that benefits are paid properly. I’m going to save this story and scripture to reread oten.

    Nancy March 11, 2010 |
  31. Carolyn,
    I am thankful that this angel was there for you and that you were able to recognize, receive and pass on her gift.

    Glenn March 14, 2010 |
  32. This same lady brightened my day this past week — or one of her like-minded colleagues. I was grateful to have my stereotypes of government bureaucrats demolished. Thanks for making the connection to this psalm. Navigating the world of applying for government benefits can be arduous and humiliating. Encountering someone like this is a great gift.

    cjg April 9, 2010 |