My husband and I attend a large congregation that is quite active in community outreach. They facilitate a certain program every year in which the objective is to get 900 participants involved in various community service projects throughout the county for 90 minutes each. So, a few weeks ago, we were sitting in church and listening to an announcement about the vast array of service projects we had to choose from, when one in particular caught my eye. An out-of-state farmer had generously offered up some of his produce to be given to our local food bank, and we were supposed to go and harvest it. I’ve had very minimal exposure to projects of this nature, and my natural inclination has always been to shy away from things I’m not experienced at, for fear of getting in the way. For some reason, though, it sounded like fun, so we signed up for last Saturday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
As it is August, temperatures have been pretty high lately, so when I received the email advising us to wear long pants, long sleeves, boots, hats, and gloves, I was a little worried. I have a condition that prevents me from perspiring in heat as well as the average person can, so my body will kind of trap the heat—forcing my skin to turn a vibrant shade of lobster-red. Sort of funny, in a way, but I’ve always had to take extra precautions against hyperthermia. But as much as I considered how miserable it would be to wear warm clothes in the sweltering heat while picking corn for an hour and a half, I was also kind of grateful for the challenge. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I can’t stand challenge. I am perfectly content to admit that I would much rather have a stress-free life than a stress-filled life—and that I don’t feel much of a need these days to prove myself to other people. Still, I felt grateful.
By the time we’d arrived on Saturday morning, the temperature was already pushing 90 degrees. After leading us in a brief prayer, our group leader released us into the field—clad in our wintery apparel. It began easily enough. I felt energized, and it really didn’t require too much strength to pull the corn from its stalk. The hardest part for me was bending the stalks backward after I’d finished. I also had a little bit of trouble discerning the good ears/husks from the ones that should be left alone, so I kept asking my husband to judge for me when I couldn’t figure it out. He was nice about it for the most part, but eventually, he started getting irritable (he’s sensitive to heat, too!). It didn’t take long before I noticed that I was running out of breath. My steps were becoming more weighted down, and it was difficult to move. I put my hand on my chest, and my heart was just pounding. My body seemed to be begging me to stop and take a break, but all the while, there was this strange struggle happening in my mind. There was a part of me that wanted to acquiesce to my body’s signals—but then, there was this other part of me. It was telling me to feel the discomfort. Feel it, but keep going anyway. Feel it, and learn to perceive it as good. Feel it, and think of Me. Because if you can’t learn to endure in something so small, how will you ever endure in a circumstance that is truly harsh? How will you ever be one with Me?
The thought encouraged me onward for a little while longer. I came to a wall of thorns that separated me from the rest of the stalks, and I was so frustrated with the whiny pangs of my body compared to the resolute desire taking hold of my mind that I started pushing right into them. Every time I felt one of them prick my skin, I just pushed harder, trying to make it through to the other side. I didn’t even bother trying to avoid them. I didn’t want to avoid them.
About forty minutes in, we finally stopped to get some water before going back for a second time. I’m sure my voice must’ve sounded incredibly lethargic and annoying as I kept pestering my husband, asking about the quality of the produce I was gathering. I’m sure I snapped unbecomingly at him a time or two in response to his friendly reminders that I needed to keep bending the stalks backward when I was finished with them, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. I was, indeed, quite happy to find myself back in the air-conditioned car as I immediately started removing my layers. But I was also disappointed in knowing that I could’ve stayed longer—that I could’ve pushed myself further if I hadn’t given in so much to my longing for comfort.
Hopefully, there will be other opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll recognize them, and hopefully, I’ll take them—because although I’ve had ease and comfort lavished upon me throughout most of my life, what I really want most is to emulate my Suffering Servant. I want to be willing to suffer, if only to be like Him. Maybe I can even learn to find comfort in pain—knowing that pain is sometimes an expression of love. I hope He’ll show me how.