Today is the first day of the American Baptist Women’s Ministries’ annual national gathering. This year the women are meeting in Phoenix, AZ. Unfortunately, I can’t attend this year, as I have in the past.
My first experience of AB Women’s Ministries annual conference was in 2008, in Greenlake, WI, where I was sworn in as a national executive committee member. Those few days at Conference were where relationships began that would profoundly change my life in the following years.
Seeing yourself in the eyes of exceptional companions can cause you to grow into the best version of yourself.
We’ve all heard warnings of what happens when we hang out with bad companions. The expression, “If you lie down with dogs you’ll get up with fleas,” is one of my favorites.
My father brought this lesson to life for me one day when I was twelve years old:
I was helping him offload a flatbed truck piled high with 100 pound sacks of livestock feed for his feed and farm supply store. Dad ran the store, single-handedly, with the sporadic assistance of my two older sisters and me. That day it was just my dad and me. I wasn’t a particularly strong 12-year old, so my contribution was pulling the sacks off the stacks and onto the truck bed and dragging them over to the side where my dad lifted them down onto the hand truck and rolled them to the correct aisle of the storage area where he stacked them, about shoulder high.
I began to grumble about how hard the work was pulling and sliding the bags to my dad, while he got to use the hand truck. Dad listened to me for awhile, then offered to switch places with me. When he handed down the first 100# bag, my puny arms didn’t slow it’s decent very much and I was relieved that the bag didn’t split. I was more ready for the weight of the second and third bags, but Dad knew I could never handle more than that on the cart. He watched me struggle, trying to shift the dead weight so that I would be able to roll it to the stacks, then jumped down and helped me tilt the cart.
After I’d wrestled with the sacks and finally managed to produce a sort of haphazard stack, Dad asked if I wanted my old job back. I readily agreed, but after boosting me up to the truck, Dad climbed up and sat next to me. With our legs dangling over the side and his arm around me, Dad explained that trying to pull companions with lower character and morals up to a higher level was as hard as lifting 100# bags and that it was always easier to drag something, or someone, down to a lower level than to lift them up.
This is an especially important lesson for Christians tempted to work in their own strength to reclaim people living in spiritual darkness. Only one with the strength of Christ can lift another up. Without constantly exercising our spiritual muscles we are much more apt to be pulled into temptation than to pull anyone else out.
Just as we need to be vigilant about our associations with “bad companions,” it’s equally important to remember the reverse is true. By spending time with those who are loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled and who always expect these same qualities in us, we are freed to do more, risk more and become more than we ever thought possible.
I can’t be in Phoenix this week, but I remember the relationships and experiences that grew out of my work in this ministry and I am praying for all the possibilities that will come from the relationships that are even now being formed and nurtured there.