hate mail

I am about to share the best advice I’ve ever received.

It’s not complex.

In fact, it’s really quite simple.

But it’s profound.

Are you ready for it?

“Do things for people…expecting nothing in return.” 

It was my very first time to co-lead a week long summer camp for 200+ junior high students. I was fresh in youth ministry, but I was zealous. For weeks I labored planning games, activities, bus lists, room lists, PowerPoint presentations – you name it. And the week was nothing short of miraculous. Students committed their lives to Christ, new friendships were formed, and well – no one died. Altogether, a great success.

A week later I was in the church office picking up the mail.

And that’s when I read it-

My first “hate mail” from a parent. We ran out of pizza the first night of camp and her 6th grade son went hungry. He didn’t tell anyone. And she was not happy. He would never be returning to the youth group.

Another letter brought complaints about the sunburn her child came home with because his counselor forgot to apply sunscreen to him at regular intervals. How could we let this happen? They would be leaving the church.

Scratching my head, I turned the envelopes over to make sure they had been sent to the correct church.

“Surely we didn’t both just get back from the same camp?” 

“Do they have any idea how much time I put into preparation for camp?”

“Do they know how much sleep I forfeited taking care of their children last week?”

“I do so much for these students and the parents don’t even notice.”

I remember I used to do youth ministry (and life) with this mindset. Give and you will receive. Love and you’re sure to be loved back. But, that’s not reality is it? Reality doesn’t coddle you that way.

Growing up as a pastor’s daughter, one of the hardest things is watching people leave the church your dad pastors and go to a new one. Why? Because it feels like you’re being replaced. Because so may times it was your family who stood by their side in the hospital waiting room while praying for a miracle. It was your mom who walked with that woman through her divorce. Because it was Dad who prayed with their dying grandfather. Try as you may, it’s just hard not to take it personal.

I used to think that loving a person with a pure heart meant that he or she “owed” me something. But that’s not how Jesus loved.

For three and a half years, Jesus hung out with Judas ALL THE WHILE knowing Judas would betray and turn Him over to the authorities. Jesus washed Peter’s dirty feet (something only a slave would do) knowing that Peter would later pretend like he never even knew Jesus. That’s real.true.love. Love which doesn’t think of itself. And that’s freeing.

To love while expecting nothing in return doesn’t mean you will avoid being hurt. Your husband might still be untrue to you. You best friend might still vanish without a word. You might be lied to or replaced. But the difference is, you won’t be bitter. Because you didn’t love to be loved in return; you didn’t give to receive.

You loved because Jesus told you to. And you loved the way He loved. There’s no shame in that.

“He didn’t come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and give his life…” Mark 10:45

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