Not Laboring in Vain

By Janet Moore, Director of Wednesday Night Dinner Ministries
Originally published August 2015

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast,
immovable, always abounding in the work of the lord, knowing that
in the lord your labor is not in vain.
– 1 Corinthians 15:58

It has often been hard for me to truly believe this passage of the Bible. I feel like my labors are in vain when folks do not follow through on what I thought was a perfect plan for them. This seems to happen all the time. I put in hours getting a guy an appointment to have much needed dental work, and he doesn’t show up. I work hard to get another gentleman into drug treatment, and he won’t go. Both of these guys just show up on a Wednesday night like nothing happened.

At our dinner we have another guest who can be very difficult and aggressive and loud. I have had to ask him to leave the dinner several times. I’ve seen him having what I call “an adult tantrum” in lower Queen Anne. When this happened, I tried to help him settle down a bit so he wouldn’t get arrested. It never feels like I am actually helping. My efforts usually feel in vain.

Recently I saw him sitting quietly on a park bench. I parked my car and walked over to extend a greeting and ask if I could join him. “Sure” he replied. We sat looking at the water and saying nothing for a long time. Finally (because I cannot be quiet for long) I said, “Is today a good day?” He looked at me with huge tears in his eyes and said, “I am too far gone to have any good days!” Now my eyes are were tearing up as well. “I am so sorry to hear you feel that way. Would you mind sharing more with me?” He told me of his painful life of abandonment, abuse, and addiction; how he has prayed for redemption and deliverance, but none seem to come. I had nothing to say to him. There really was not anything to say, because he was right. His life has been really hard and tortured.

Part of me wanted to show him the cute kids on Facebook giving the “father full” lecture, or to look at cute animal videos on YouTube, or hand him some money to make myself feel better. Instead I sat with him and listened to his story and his perspective on life and God. There is not much hope or comfort in this story. It was a difficult hour listening to him. I just sat and tried my very best to stay in the moment with him and cry honest tears. I remember a class at the University of Washington I took 32 years ago where the professor said the best thing we can do with people is remain present. This is a challenge sometimes. But it is so valuable for me when I don’t know what to say or do.

When I leave he says, “I will see you at the dinner. I really missed it last week.”

“We really missed you too. We will be glad to have you at dinner.”

He smiled at me and said, “I think you believe that.”

I am grateful I stopped to sit and listen to this guy who is often a challenge for me. I now have a much greater understanding of his life and pain. I’m looking forward to seeing him at our next dinner. Will anything have changed? Probably not. But in the Lord’s work, we do not always get to see the fruit of our labor. I remind myself, “in the Lord, my labor is not in vain.”

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