Twelve times a year I make breakfast casseroles. They’re my monthly contribution to the local homeless shelter. But this week, I wondered (read: grumbled) how it could possibly be time make casseroles again. It seemed like I was just buying eggs, cheese, sausage, hash browns, and baking tins last week. The twelve commitments were becoming more of a burden than a joy. Maybe it was time to do something new.
For years, I’ve made breakfast food for our local shelter, The Lamb Center. They serve meals for the most vulnerable people in our community. The center has showers and a laundry area. Social workers, job counselors, and mental health professionals walk faithfully alongside guests as they emerge from poverty to sustainability.
Lives are changing at the Lamb Center.
I am committed to the shelter and the work the Lord is doing there. My suburban life, however, is far removed from the daily crises of men and women living in the margins of society. My breakfast casseroles feel like a very slim offering. There must be others who would be interested in serving in this way.
When I first committed to the local outreach, I shopped with delight for the ingredients. My family cooked together to chop, sauté, and assemble the casseroles on Friday evenings. I even welcomed the early morning alarm to bake our contribution for Saturday’s meal.
This month, though, I was merely going through robotic motions. Casserole-baking was an item on the day’s to-do list. Forgotten were the people the food would serve. Forgotten were the volunteers who would join guests to talk about life. Forgotten was the compassion felt through a warm meal.
Between cracking eggs and frying sausage, I pondered whether it was time to stop providing breakfast food. A weariness had blanketed my enthusiasm. When had this ministry morphed into a mere agenda item? Pay mortgage, clean bathrooms, make casseroles.
Then my Bible study took me into the book of Revelation. “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelations 2:1, 4). Ouch. The Apostle John’s words for the church in Ephesus felt penned for me. They reverberated in my heart like the clash of marching band cymbals. I had forsaken my first love. I had lost my Christ-centered focus.
My passion to serve had shifted into a calendar burden. Because I no longer baked for the Lord himself, my monthly effort merely fulfilled a checklist box. I received affirmation from the shelter’s organizers. That motivation, however, lasted only as long as I felt the appreciation. When the busyness of life shouted louder than the hours needed for casseroles, my first love evolved into complacent routine.
In conversations with ministry leaders, I discovered I am not alone in my loss of motivation. Commitment among volunteers is among their greatest challenges. Everyone wants to feel their efforts are meaningful. Valid point. Victories in the multi-faceted issues of homelessness, poverty, and other difficult situations, however, come one person at a time. They emerge in inches rather than huge media-worthy strides.
Non-profits and ministries, therefore, invest hours to share the impact of their work. Some have added paid staff members to focus on storytelling, motivating volunteers, and raising awareness of their ongoing needs.
What if I served out of my first love? What if the solo motivation for us Christ-followers were to glorify the Lord through words and deeds instead of affirmation, personal fulfillment, or volunteer recognition? How many more hours would ministry leaders have to focus on ministry and on increasing visibility of their outreach work?
It’s early Saturday morning. The sun has not yet made its appearance. I pull on my robe and stumble into the kitchen to pre-heat my oven. I glance at the clock and am aware that staff members are already at the shelter. They are preparing to open the doors. Strong coffee is brewing.
This early Fall morning, I renew my commitment to breakfast casseroles. Sometimes a change in heart is indeed a call by the Lord to venture in a new direction. But for me, this time, the crisis of fatigue was a reminder of my purpose for serving.
John concluded his message to the Ephesians, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelations 2:7). This is the motivation to which I will cling. I will make room in the mess of the calendar. But soon… soon the day will come when we exchange breakfast casseroles for all-you-can-eat fruit from the Tree of Life. Come, Lord Jesus, come.