When I was asked to reflect on the joy of serving the church, the word “joy” stuck in my throat. My thoughts immediately turned to the recent challenging conversations and difficult decisions those of us who serve on the General Board of Mennonite Church Canada had to make this year. Instead of “joy,” words like “pain” and “loss” came to mind.
Serving always comes more easily when there is a sense of being present for new birth or growth. Yet we all recognize that when serving there can be times of deep sorrow, misunderstanding and a sense of woeful inadequacy. In spite of prayerful discernment and careful processing, individuals are bruised, things are overlooked and outcomes often fall short of what was planned for or desired.
Perhaps, in my longing for joy during these times of drought, I found myself retreating into the garden, a place for all the senses God gave us to be fully engaged:
- A place of stimulation and a place of retreat.
- A place for contemplation and a place of tedious, back-aching labour.
- A place to experience the annual cycle of growth and a place to live with death.
- A place of abundance and a place of disappointment.
- A place to enjoy the scent of lilacs and a place to smell manure.
- A place for the brilliance of wild colours and a place for quiet sorrows.
- A place to hear birds sing and a place to feel the sting of hail.
- A place to climb trees and a place to hide.
- A place of first fruits and a place of barren ground.
- A place to drink from the well and a place to feel parched.
- A place where the path is evident and a place where the next steps seem uncertain.
In my grandmothers’ gardens, there was much beauty in spring and great abundance in summer; as the autumn leaves fell, the long days of harvest marked a shift that was both sweet and sorrowful. And as winter approached and all was stripped away, only the solid skeletal framework of the garden remained, standing out majestically as the first snow fell. There was a place for all seasons in my grandmothers’ gardens.
Serving, for me, is something like working in a garden, with all its beauty and travail. Yes, there are moments of joy and exhilaration at the awesomeness of the Creator’s ways. But, mostly, service is about putting on work clothes and getting messy in the rain or sunshine, heat or snow, working in whatever season we are in. Alongside others on the path, we seek to discern both who God is calling us to become in the soil where we have been planted and what the next steps might be. It’s about living in the hope and anticipation of the season of God’s promise.
Hilda A. Hildebrand is the assistant moderator of Mennonite Church Canada and a member of the General Board.