Photo taken at Thoburn College, the first women's college in Asia.
“Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” —2 Thessalonians 3:13.
When I was asked to write a Lenten meditation based on the 150 years of the work of United Methodist Women and its earlier incarnations, my thoughts went straight to this verse. Ever since the 1860s when two women home on furlough from the mission field of India spoke to a group of Boston women, lighting a fire of determination, United Methodist Women members have taken to heart John Wesley's call for social justice and have put their determination to work.
Throughout the years, through different names and different missions, the vision of these women has driven the work of what is now United Methodist Women. This organization has not become “weary in doing what is right.” Thoburn College, the first women's college in Asia, was an early educational endeavor, and today's conference Mission u events continue to teach sometimes difficult truths to those willing to learn. When in earlier times male physicians were not allowed to care for women in India, single women were sent to meet that need. Today's United Methodist Women still reaches out to women, children, the young and the elderly.
There is no doubt that brave women taking such a stand and doing such work have not always pleased everyone. Taking a stand and seeking to reach out to the marginalized costs. Sometimes it costs us peace with those unwilling to understand. Sometimes it costs a night's sleep, our health, our money, certainly our time. Sometimes it can be lonely, although with United Methodist Women, we have each other. Yet always, it costs. We can get weary.
But Paul told the church at Thessalonica, “Do not be weary in doing what is right.” How do we do that when there is so much wrong and so much work to be done to make it right?
People in any helping profession get weary. When I was working with special needs children and adults I read that the average time for burnout in my work was 18 months. When one thinks about those who make a full career in this field, that average is quite startling.
Sometimes we can keep going by using coping mechanisms. My coworkers and I developed a type of gallows humor to release some pressure when we were alone together. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other counselors have their own therapists and confidantes. Otherwise the consequences can be dire. Yet not matter how we cope, we get weary. Where do we turn when that happens?
One of my favorite old gospel songs tells a tale of weariness:
I traveled down a lonely road and no one seemed to care.
The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair.
I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me;
And then I heard Him say so tenderly:
My feet were also weary upon the Calvary road;
The cross became so heavy I fell beneath the load.
Be faithful, weary pilgrim, the morning I can see;
Just lift your cross and follow close to me.
—“Follow Me” by Ira Stanphil
As followers of Jesus Christ we have a knowledge of God's presence and God's ability to know the outcome of our endeavors. We also know that Jesus has been where we are. He knows our burdens. He's had his own, more than we could ever experience. During Lent, we take the time to meditate on his burdens that he took on for us, even when he didn't have to. And he, too, became weary in doing what is right. Jesus knows we get weary. He said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
So when we feel the weariness, we know we have somewhere to go for empowerment, comfort and relief. Whether as individuals or in relationship with sisters in the work before us, we can go to that place. By prayer, worship and sharing we can be renewed to continue the work still to be done. Those who have gone before us found that place of rest, renewal and strength, and because of that much has already been accomplished.
As members of United Methodist Women we still have a great work before us. Children still hunger, women are still marginalized, political leaders still need to be taught and held accountable. We can be assured that if God asks us to “not be weary in doing what is right,” then there is support and protection that will help us along the way.
God knows our hearts. That's why we see the needs when we look around us. Our Creator gives that insight to those who want it and are ready to take on the task. When we do that, we are dong what is right. We are where we need to be, and God is with us there.
William Carey, the father of modern mission, once said, “Expect great things of God, attempt great things for God.” For 150 years, United Methodist Women has done that. During this time of Lent, let's take the time to consider how Jesus knows what we experience, because he's been there, and he still is. In Matthew 28:20, he tells his disciples to spread his love all over the world, and then he promises, “And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Today we are those disciples. Amen.
Great God, our Creator, thank you that you never give us a task without giving us the tools we need to accomplish it. Thank you for the women who have gone before us, for their vision, courage, and tireless determination. Help us, like them, to not “be weary in doing what is right.” Show us the needs before us, and guide us in your work. In the name of your son we pray, amen.
Patricia Parent is a Native storyteller, musician, writer and lifelong student of the Bible. She and her husband of 41 years (a United Methodist elder whom she met at Bible college) live in Fall River, MA.