I am on a journey of learning to love God and to love the poor, both the poor in spirit and the materially poor. As I have read Scripture over the last 10 years or so, I have been reminded again and again of God's concern for the overlooked, the least, the last, and the lost. And as I look at the world today, in general, I am reminded again and again of the lack of concern for the same. These people and the places where they live are what I would call the "marginal" of our society, and I have sensed a call from God to be in these places. However, on my journey it has not been easy to be in marginal places for any number of reasons (many of which may end up being fleshed out here on this blog). And my response to that struggle has often been self-righteous finger-pointing, wielding the "truth" of God's Word as my club, and often alienating those that I would hope to win. Sometimes I call myself "Squeaky Wheel Benbow" when referring to different conversations I have had with leaders at my church about the poor, because I am not sure I always operate in grace, and I can almost hear them saying, "Here he comes again - duck!"
Yet this past semester God has given me a gift of a Sabbatical from work, and during that time I wrote a draft of a book on loving the poor. And as I wrote and rewrote, God revealed my pointing finger to me and made me wonder if I might turn more people away. Was there joy in the margins or was it all work?
At the same time I was learning this, I was also given another gift in being able to take a class that focuses on understanding my identity in Christ. I began to see, again, how dependent I am on God's grace for life and for love, and I began to see how completely He loved me and gave Himself for me. And this lifewas to be my source of joy, even in the margins.
I had come to believe that the work was up to me, and I was led by my own laws, which were based on the convictions I had received from Scripture, and one of the surest ways to rob joy is to put it under a law. But if Christ truly is my life and the work in the margins was Christ's to accomplish through me, if I was no longer responsible for proving myself "right" and making everyone else see things my way, room for joy was created.
And so I am learning about joy in the margins, appreciating the people and nuances of my neighborhood and life in the city. I am appreciating what God has for me and my family here in Glenwood. I emphasize "learning" because I still struggle, and I still choose to follow my own laws sometimes.
As I thought about the title for this blog, I realized another meaning for "margins", which is to have space in one's life and schedule for quiet and reflection. I am a do-er by nature, trying so hard to make everyone like me and to make myself seem acceptable. But for four months, I didn't "do" too much. My faithful IV support team continued to pray and give, people and programs that I was to shepherd went on, and I had time to be quiet. Sure, I tried to fill that time with lots of things, but there is only so much filling one can do. And so I am learning that there is joy in the margins of life, too, and that there is joy in creating margins, space, to be with the Lord and remember to abide in Him.