Social Justice at Work: When Failure Leads to Better Fit

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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“I really don’t want to do this,” I whispered to my husband, Brad, as he turned the minivan into the packed parking lot at the Center for People in Need.

I was leery of involving our family in another service opportunity. A few months prior we’d quit delivering Meals on Wheels because our two boys had complained so bitterly about boredom, car sickness and the pungent scent of broccoli that had wafted from the food trays stacked in the back of the mini-van. Exasperated and tired of arguing with them every few weeks during the two hours it took to complete our assigned route, I finally sent our resignation notice to Rhoda, the program coordinator.

Although Rhoda graciously let me off the hook, acknowledging that not every serving opportunity was a good fit for every family, quitting Meals on Wheels had left me feeling like a bad parent and a bad Christian. I wondered, as the four of us scuttled through the double doors of the food distribution center, if this volunteer initiative would end in failure as well.

Inside the cavernous warehouse, my oldest son Noah positioned himself next to a large crate of potatoes. He quietly handed over one five-pound bag after another as a seemingly endless line of people pushed their carts past.

I glanced up to glimpse an elderly Asian man accept a sack from Noah. The man then stooped close and stroked my son’s cheek with two fingers, murmuring something in a language I couldn’t identify. He rested his hand lightly on the crown of Noah’s head for a moment before moving on.

One table down our younger son, Rowan, distributed containers of cookies, loaves of day-old bread and boxes of donuts. He smiled in anticipation each time he reached deep into the crate to pull an item from the bottom, and I knew he was hoping for one of the rare “fancy desserts” – a frosted birthday cake or a Boston crème pie.

“Now this is what I’m talking about!” Rowan shouted, outstretched arms holding up a glazed Bundt cake festooned with rainbow sprinkles. He eagerly placed the cake in the bottom of a mother’s cart while her three kids looked on with wide eyes.

On the drive home from the Center that night, the four of us talked about our serving experience and the people we had met. As I listened to the boys chat excitedly in the backseat, I realized, with a jolt of surprise, that the evening had been a success. Rhoda had been right; we’d found a good fit.

We had gutted it out with Meals on Wheels for a full year before I’d finally accepted the fact that it wasn’t working particularly well for us. Looking back, it’s no surprise the experience was an exercise in futility and frustration. I have two young, active boys who don’t relish spending long periods of time buckled into the backseat of the mini-van. They gravitate toward physical activity, and volunteering at the Center for People in Need offered exactly that.

I might not have discovered such a good serving opportunity for my family if I hadn’t first failed with the Meals on Wheels endeavor. Sometimes, it seems, we need to figure out what doesn’t work before we finally figure out what does. And now I know one secret to success: instead of forcing my family to fit a particular serving opportunity, it’s far more effective and fruitful to find a serving opportunity that fits my family.


Social Justice at Work

When God asks us to take care of the orphan, widow, and the poor, what does that mean for our workplaces? How do we follow a social justice mandate in our offices, schools, warehouses and retail establishments? And how does it change our world when social justice works the way God intended?

In the series Social Justice at Work, The High Calling explores social justice in the places we work and the ways we work. Join us as we discuss how our calling to the "least of these" affects us outwardly in our jobs, and inwardly as we perform our jobs, via theme-related Bible reflections, featured articles, and discussion starters. We encourage you to add your questions, concerns and comments, engage with us on social media (especially Twitter and Facebook), and invite your friends and colleagues to do the same.

Feature image by Susan Etole. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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