“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free someone else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”
Toni Morrison (The Oprah Magazine, 2003)
(note from Jenny: if you have some time, Google Toni Morrison - she’s pretty awesome!)
This has hit home for me in the last few days as I entered a ‘slump.’ It isn’t a major slump, rather one that is born out of criticism and accusation, which has pulled wind from my sails and caused me some sleeplessness and sadness. Toni Morrison’s words landed hard when the criticism came from trying to do exactly that — freeing and empowering another so that they may live into the call God has for them.
I have had to make a deliberate effort to put aside my feelings of hurt, frustration, and even anger (especially when criticism was levelled at a colleague also), and be reminded that I do not actually have the right to be selective in this. I don’t get to choose to free or empower someone just because they will support or applaud me in some way. I need to serve in ways that are freeing and empowering because it is the right thing to do!
It seems to me that this is an expression of the love we are called to live as followers of Jesus. He modelled throughout his life what it means to free and empower others. He freed sinners from the burden of guilt and punishment, he freed those who were unwell from the restrictions of their illness, and he freed those who were bound by “evil spirits,” whatever they looked like 2000 years ago. He also empowered his followers to cast out demons, to heal the sick, and to forgive sinners. And he did it because of love.
Jesus knew the ‘properties’ of love — the things that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13. He knew that love freed and empowered him to free and empower others. He also knew that sometimes his work of love would be abused, that those who received it would use their freedom and power against him. Yet that didn’t stop him. He kept on loving, freeing and empowering, right up to hanging on the cross when he freed a sinner from guilt and his mother from abandonment. And he kept empowering others even from the other side of death as he sent his disciples out into the world to continue the work he had begun. We have a whole book in our Bible devoted to the freeing and empowering work of that faithful, stumbling group of followers!
Returning to my current ‘slump,’ one of the things I miss deeply in this time is the chance conversations with colleagues which had become an unrecognised, and therefore largely unappreciated, lifeline for me. They have provided opportunity to share what is on my heart, to talk it over and think through the options. Zoom is ok, and in our current situation it will largely need to suffice, however there is a deliberateness about Zoom that is different to those opportune chats. I hear echoes of this from others through the conversations, messages and emails that scatter through my days.
I don’t want to just let this go, to say all this and leave it hanging. I feel compelled by love to offer this: if there is something that is causing you to ‘slump’ at the moment, or alternatively, something that is causing you to burst with joy (or anything in-between), and you would like to talk it over with someone, please let me know. If I cannot be available, I will do everything I can to free and empower someone else to be in touch with you.
In the meantime, I pray that you will be free to live and love and serve as the precious child of God you are, and that through your living, loving and serving you find the capacity to free someone else. No matter what they might do with that freedom. And remember, do this in love as you are much loved.
Blessings and peace,