To thrive means to grow well, to prosper, to flourish. In ministry, it is an ideal adjective. To say your ministry is thriving, or you yourself are thriving within your ministry, is to say you are obviously doing something right. It is a sign of blessing, and a visible proof our branches are stretching out wide and bearing beautiful fruit. As Jesus describes it in John 15:1–11,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
But what happens when you do not feel that way?
- When the word thrive does not accurately describe your life?
- When you do not feel as though you are “growing well,” “prospering,” or “flourishing”?
- When the day-to-day of your ministry is not the least bit about thriving but simply surviving?
Thus was life my second and third year serving abroad. By the summer of our third year in Haiti, depression hovered over me like a relentless storm. I had lost a significant amount of weight and was dangerously teetering on the line of an eating disorder. My marriage was struggling to stay afloat, and multiple failures in our ministry had left me overtly lonely and hopeless.
At this season in life, thriving was merely a dream.
Although there were many reasons for this, let me share with you the heart of the problem—and why I struggled so deeply. Although I blamed it all on the circumstances that surrounded me, the core issue was that I had forgotten what I was called for, and I struggled to find purpose in my place.
What is the most valuable thing women need on the field in order to thrive?
When I originally thought about this article, I had all sorts of ideas. I had a running list in my mind that included numerous potential winners such as: a strong support system, local friends, daily quiet time, Oreos. You know, all the important stuff. When push came to shove, however, when it actually came time for me to move my fingertips across the keyboard and make words, none of those options seemed to suffice. It was only when I started to reflect back on the season in which I did not thrive that I realized what our truest need is: Purpose.
We all have gifts. As children of God, we all have been called to use those gifts to grow God’s kingdom. We all have purpose. It is when we are fulfilling our purpose that we find true joy.
As women, it is so easy to forget this. Somewhere between dirty dishes, grading schoolwork, grocery shopping, killing mosquitos, and sweeping a constantly-dirty floor, our reason for moving overseas can so easily feel lost. When you experience multiple failures in your ministry, it is easy to second-guess your calling. In a new culture it may seem impossible at times to find a niche for your gifts to blossom. Then enters heartbreak—because we all need purpose. We were all created with purpose, and we all need to live with purpose.
The summer of my third year I knew I needed restoration. Kissing my husband and two children goodbye, I went home to Tennessee for a month to be with family, begin the process of healing open wounds, and rediscover my calling. I attended a conference with others who had similar callings in global work around the world. I relaxed and enjoyed the presence of friends I had dearly missed. I read good books and sought wisdom from mentors. And I prayed. A lot. When I returned to Haiti, my heart was restored, and I confidently understood my purpose: to be a partner to my husband, a mother to my children, a friend and advocate to youth who had long been orphaned, and a writer about it all.
I realize I am making this all seem rather simple, but this is only because I do not have the space to write a novel here and now (although hopefully soon). Rediscovering my purpose, learning how to use my gifts in the culture in which God had placed me, and finding joy in household chores was anything but easy, and it took a long time. It is still taking time, as it may for you as well.
As daughters of the King, we all have been given beautiful gifts. How we are called to use those gifts in this world will be different for each one of us, but our core purpose is the same: We were created to glorify God: Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory (Isaiah 43:7). I have to remind myself of this often. When I am disciplining my children, how am I glorifying God? When I am tutoring teenagers as they prepare for their school exams, how am I glorifying God? When I give my husband space and time to harvest his own gifts, how am I glorifying God? When I have to sign yet another paper to finalize our adoption, how am I glorifying God? When I share the stories of our life in Haiti through my writing, how am I glorifying God? I could continue, but I am sure you see the picture I am painting.
What is the #1 thing women need to thrive on the field? Purpose. It is the ability to plant your gifts and watch them blossom wherever God has planted you. It is glorifying God in the everyday acts of motherhood, marriage, and ministry. It is living a life of joy because you know, with confidence, the purpose in which the Creator of our universe chose to create you.
Questions to consider: Are you like me? Have you ever been in my shoes? Perhaps you are there right now. Have you ever experienced a season in your life when you struggled to know your purpose? How did you find your way back to your calling?