The pandemic threw us all out of our routines. Try though we may, our family has struggled to re-establish the weekly patterns we held dear before masks, social distancing, and home antigen tests became part of our daily lives. We are thankful to live in an area where reported transmission is fairly low, and our church home is open and thriving. New opportunities to invest in our community present each day.
Within our family, the adults asked how we could best phrase our expectations moving forward. We wanted our girls to start giving back to the community that invests tirelessly in them. With deep roots in elementary and middle school, our four daughters offer their own feedback when we present them with new requirements.
My husband and I debated our verbiage:
Do we require their participation or do we just encourage their presence?
Are our expectations different for each child?
Do our hopes change as they age?
Do we encourage them to use the gifts we see God growing in each of them?
Or should we wait prayerfully, hoping they will feel God working through our gentle nudges?
Our oldest daughter began eighth grade just last month. The family debates were offered a welcome reprieve with her second Civics assignment: a required ten hours of community service each quarter, with a paper to follow, detailing her contribution to her community. Still shy around most adults, she struggled knowing where to start. Her friends at Youth Group pointed her back to our church home, where opportunities abound. She could acolyte, help teach Sunday school, or work to restock our outreach food pantry. Her sights for the second quarter are set even higher, to include helping direct the Christmas pageant.
It is our hope that our oldest, closely followed by her little sisters, will turn these required service opportunities into part of her journey to discover her own unique abilities, talents, and areas of joy within our church family. With a sense of relief, I hoped to point back to biblical passages, extoling the virtues of good works for God’s Kingdom (James 2:14 and Ephesians 2:10 came to mind).
The unexpected lesson came in the paperwork.
Our daughter carries a tattered printout, complete with a chart for documenting her service hours. My recommendation to keep it in a folder was met with raised eyebrows. I am still not convinced my children, growing up in the digital age, will ever value printed material. On this printout, each civics activity is documented, along with the hours, the contribution she made, and the signature of the supervising adult.
We looked over the list, discussing ways she could contribute to her school community in addition to church. Then she paused, mulling over something I sensed was deeper than the reruns of Gilmore Girls looping in the background.
“Do you think God is keeping track? The same way I am on this sheet?”
I know for certain that I offered a rather ineloquent answer in the moment, but I promised we would circle back around soon. The eyebrows raised again, and she turned back to the regularly scheduled programming.
Today, what I would say with more certainty is this: I know God doesn’t keep score. I don’t think God takes attendance each Sunday or marks you tardy when you quietly slip into the last row. God won’t ask for your resume and expect you to justify the time you spent in good works for the Kingdom.
If my daughter asks again, I hope to point her to the truth that God made her heart and mind with certain gifts that may only be recognized when they’re used in service to others. It is an opportunity to commune with God, and to witness beauty in a world that struggles in its imperfection.
So, no, dear one, I don’t think God is keeping track. I know that you are seen, held, and loved by your Creator, who does not require a log of your time. Instead, God desires a relationship, the characteristics of which we may never fully put into words, much less captured within the lines of a chart.
I hope this conversation was the first of many within our family about vocation, calling, and using our spiritual gifts. I am thankful that a school assignment allowed (or required) our daughter the opportunity to explore her gifts within the context of her church community. Beyond the practicality, I am most grateful for the example this situation offered, to explore the deep power of God’s grace.