I just read a tweet from a man who has been in ministry with his wife for about twenty years. He was celebrating that two years ago, he finally surrendered to God.

Umm, wait…what? What about all those years before when you and your wife were serving and such?

I couldn’t help but wonder if the wife ever looks back on those years prior to the surrendering that fairly recently happened and thinks to herself, “Was all of that a waste? Did any of that actually count?”

I spent many, many years living in a difficult marriage, an active participant in our dysfunction and pain. And during that entire almost nineteen-year stretch, I served like nobody’s business. I co-led the youth group with my then-husband, I led women’s and co-led couples’ small groups, I began and led the women’s ministry for ten years, I held crying babies in the nursery, I watched my friends’ kids, I wrote notes, I prayed prayers, I wrote books, I spoke at women’s events, I went to three third-world countries, even leading one trip, I produced Sunday services, I was on staff at my church, and I’m sure I even made a meal or two for someone who was sick or just had a baby (okay, probably not).

But you get my point: I was a serving machine. I was taking hills and building the Kingdom, darnit!

And I was doing all of this while my marriage was falling apart, while I was battling my issue with anger, while I was being disrespectful, while I was doing almost everything wrong, while I was – for the most part – hiding everything, living a fairly inauthentic life (despite my desire for the opposite to be true).

Was every act of service during my broken, sinful marriage a waste?  Because I was such a mess for so many years, did none of my ministry count?  Did my service and ministry only really technically start to matter eternally when I started telling the truth, when I started asking for and getting real help, when I finally started doing things the “right” way?

(By the way, this thinking can be further solidified in our minds when our churches ask those of us who are separated or divorced to step down from serving if they don’t do so for our benefit, for our healing, but if they do so to protect others from us, which I sadly hear time and again.)

But here’s what I believe to be true:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago, that we should walk in them. –Ephesians 2:10-

And this:

…the LORD sees the heart. –I Samuel 16:7-

Which means, I believe this: dear sweet woman who is in a difficult marriage and for whatever reasons, you feel you must keep your reality to yourself, and dear sweet woman who is separated or divorced and you feel like you are benched…  God sees your heart. He knows your motives. He knows if when you serve, you’re doing so because you love him and for no other reason. God created you as a work of art and he did so because he has set aside good things for you to do that only you can do, whether you’re in pain or not, whether your life circumstances are awesome or awful.

If we all waited until everything in our lives were just so, and if we waited until our hearts were one hundred percent void of impurity, none of us would ever serve anyone.

It all counts. Even in your pain, and sometimes most beautifully because and through your pain, it all counts. Not one moment of service poured out is wasted. God sees it all.  It all builds the Kingdom. No matter where you are today, you can build the Kingdom.  So as long as you have it in you, dear one, keep walking, keep serving, keep pouring out, keep building.

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Life isn't always how we want it. When change seems elusive, and we're stuck in old routines, a gentle push or some self-reflection can make a difference. Let these questions be that nudge to get you moving.

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