Living From The Heart – 2017 Module Four: Discernment
Discernment Issue: To Serve or Not to Serve: Victoria Police Victims’ Services
by Sue McKerracher
Living From The Heart – Module 4 – June 23, 2017
It seems as though my discernment issue sought me out, rather than the other way around. After returning from our May Intensive with a discernment issue firmly in mind, I received a phone call from a friend with an intriguing invitation: “Would I consider volunteering with the Victoria Police Victim’s Services Program? It would involve committing a minimum of 6-10 hours per week during business hours and one weekend each month on call. The role could include being called by police to come and provide emotional support to individuals at a crime scene, helping individuals write out their victim impact statements for court, walking people through the court process and attending court with them if they need support, and connecting people with appropriate ongoing support and advocacy services. The police department would provide all of the necessary training. My inner voice was immediately shouting an excited, “yes – that is exactly what I want to do!” But it was quickly drowned out as a host of doubts and uncertainties began to flood into my mind. “Think about it”, said my friend, “I will send you the contact information.”
I knew by the way my heart had responded that this was an invitation worth serious consideration. It was a wonderful opportunity, but it also bumped up against some of my growing financial concerns and I wasn’t sure how to respond. It seemed a perfect opportunity to practice some of the decision-making methods that we had been talking about in class. My discernment question, then, is: should I volunteer with the Victoria Police Victims’ Services Program or should I seek out full-time work for the coming year?
I started my discerning process by working with the “tree diagram” to discover my deepest desires. Amongst the desires that emerged were the following: (1) To be attuned to, and grounded in, God’s hospitality and loving Presence, and to reflect that out into the world. To me, that means creating spaces and opportunities for people to feel seen, welcomed, valued, and loved just as they are. (2) To use my gifts and opportunities to “love the world to life,” or to participate with God in bringing His “shalom” (wholeness) into people’s lives and situations. This includes working for justice, seeking reconciliation in relationships, and ensuring support and community for people who have been victimized or marginalized in some way. (3) To walk alongside people and help them to discern God’s love for them, and His care and Presence with them. To help them know their worth, find their voice, and explore their calling.
There is much about the Victims’ Services Program that would allow me to live into (or out of) these desires – care, compassion, presence, communicating worth, and helping people find their voice and a restored sense of worth. And it also matches well with what I see as God’s heart for His world – caring for the marginalized and supporting those who feel powerless, standing for justice, and facilitating healing and reconciliation. But despite all that is good about this choice, I still felt undecided. There were two primary barriers to pray about.
The first was self-doubt. Even though I feel tremendous joy and a sense of hope at being given the opportunity to serve in this program, I struggled with doubts as to whether I would actually be able to offer good advice or meet people’s needs while they were in crisis. “What if I end up failing people when they need it most?” “I don’t know anything about working with people who have been victimized, nor do I know much about the inner workings of the court system; what if I can’t learn enough and I steer people in the wrong direction?” I was quite consumed with these fears and doubts. As I spent time praying and reflecting on these fears, I began to see how strongly my false self was at work, and also how skewed my image of God was. I began to realize that my fears and doubts were centered around me and my reputation. “What if I’m not good enough in this role? What if I fail? What if I let people down? What will people think of me then? (What will I think of me?).” It was my pride and my need to look accomplished in front of others that was driving my fears. My ego was center stage. As I spent time in listening prayer, God enable me to see that as long as my motivation/vision was tied to bolstering my image and sense of worth, I would always struggle with feelings of inadequacy; but if I shifted my gaze to the needs of others and my opportunity to offer myself in service to others (for their sake alone), then God could work through me. I needed to take my eyes off of me (and my potential inadequacies) and put it on the genuine needs of the people I would be serving.
The second idea that emerged from prayer was my lack of trust in God’s ability to make up for my inexperience and shortcomings. I was envisioning this work being done solely on my own strength and not on God’s. I’ve just been reading Baxter Kruger’s book, The Shack Revisited, and he does a beautiful job of emphasizing the true humanity of Jesus. That everything Jesus accomplished was as a human who was fully open to God and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He lives out what it means for a person to have their life fully taken up and joined with the life of God (transformation and new creation). As I reflected on that, God reminded me that IF he chose to place me in this position, He was more than able to equip me to do the job. As long as I remain open to Him, attentive to His leading and His voice, there is nothing that I cannot be equipped to do. It was shocking to me, to reflect on how much of my life I spend trying to live out of my own strength and perceived abilities, and how many of my fears and doubts are based upon this, rather than upon the God’s life within me. I was operating in “scarcity” mode rather than from one of “abundance”: God’s abundant presence and provision.
A second fear that emerged when I considered this opportunity to volunteer, was “how am I going to pay all of my bills next year?” I had money saved for one year off, but not for two. If I apply and am accepted into this volunteer position, I won’t be able to pursue full-time employment elsewhere. One of the questions that helped with this fear is “what images of God do you notice are in the forefront of your awareness? I realized that for all my talk about trusting in God’s goodness and provision and in His knowledge of what gives me joy, I wasn’t actually walking in, or living out of, that belief. Even though my heart leaps with joy at the thought of working in Victim’s Services; and even though I know that it matches with my deepest desires and what I understand to be God’s heart for His world, I have held back because somewhere deep inside me I don’t trust that God will provide for my needs. I feel like I need to provide for myself. When I felt called to leaving teaching, I know that God said He had something more for me to do. But rather than trusting Him with the details, I am busy trying to arrange my finances by prioritizing full-time work (in anything) over something that I know draws upon, and expresses, my true self.
As I reflect on this past year, I am amazed at the ways that God has provided for my financial needs. I have had money to live, money to take this course, money to provide meals and hospitality to others, and even money to travel. In so many ways, God has demonstrated his faithfulness and his abundant generosity towards me. Why should I not trust that He is able to provide for me next year as well.
I am able to work as a teacher-on-call for my school and volunteer on a part-time basis. The money is not much, but I can trust God to grow that to what it needs to be. As I reflected on this, I realized that one of the other “deepest desires” that I had written down, was to participate in the spiritual formation of young adults. Continuing to work as a TOC at my former school affords me a perfect opportunity to live out of that desire.
One question that was very helpful to me in this decision-making process was: “when you are on your deathbed and look back on your life, which option would you want to have chosen at this time?” Without hesitation, I would want to choose the option that builds into the lives and well-being of others; the option that participates in the Shalom of God, over the need to simply make money. That answer was a good confirmation for me.
Finally, I fit my question into the “four columns” method of discernment. The advantages for choosing the volunteer opportunity far exceeded the choice to pursue full-time employment. Being a practical expression of God’s love and of His Kingdom, helping people who have been marginalized, practicing hospitality, receiving training in counseling, practicing SoulStream principles; all of these benefits eclipsed the singular benefit of earning enough money to feel secure and provided for in my own strength.
The longer I prayed and reflected over this question, the more I realized that I was being led to apply for the volunteer position. I realize that God may, in the end, close the door on that opportunity, but the process of asking the question and reflecting on the issues and emotions attached to it were invaluable. It has helped me to clarify my own deepest desires; it has helped me to look closely at my deeply held images of God; it has enabled me to confront some of my expressions of false self and lay that at God’s feet. This whole process has been one of invaluable learning and I am grateful for the opportunity. I’m now eager to see where God will lead as I pursue this opportunity to volunteer with Victim’s Services in Victoria.