With rank comes real life

By Erin Wikle, Lt. –

With fewer than 90 days under my belt as a brand new lieutenant, the same sobering awareness of my weakness and need for the Lord—that I once felt so deeply during my cadetship—is no stranger during my transition to the ranks of officership in The Salvation Army.

Our first Sunday was a beautiful mess—our chapel was full and overflowing with 130 women and men, most of whom were experiencing homelessness, in the throes of addiction, or on the journey to recovery. Our foyer reeked of weed as our Corps Sergeant Major kindly reminded our friends they can’t smoke while waiting for the hot meal following the service. Later that same day, my husband accompanied a suicidal man to the hospital, listening to his story of how he found us.

“You had the word ‘salvation’ in your name. And I thought, if they can’t save me…who can?”

And while he was away, as I sat in on our women’s Bible study, our building’s main sewage line back-flowed into our kitchen and into our courtyard.

You can’t make this stuff up.

We came home that day exhausted. Elated. In love. And it instantly became all the more clear: we can’t do this without the help, strength and wisdom that comes from God the Father. Ah, the polarity of strength and weakness—and how he delights when he can fully supply one for the other.

The certain safety offered by our short training experience is now far removed as my husband and I struggle to prioritize what seems to be an ever-growing “to do” list demanding our (lacking) expertise as preachers, teachers, shepherds, supervisors, budget managers, networkers, justice advocates, and conduits of grace. Of course, many of our colleagues and own session mates have shared similar sentiments—offering that they had yet to find a good balance within it all.

While balance seems, perhaps, the best descriptor, I think it’s more about finding the right rhythm. See, balance suggests there are perhaps only two things to be weighed. And as we consider officership and how we find this hard sought-after equilibrium, I can only imagine those two things to be: ministry and…everything else.

This can’t be right.

Despite all earnest or half-hearted efforts, there seems a great temptation to agree that ministry and our private lives are two entities unto themselves and ne’er the two shall meet. But is this real life as people called to live missionally and intentionally in our communities? Is balance right?

Balance says give and take. Balance argues equity. Balance says take from one to supply for the other. So, either way you shake it, someone or something’s getting robbed.

And yet again, this can’t be right.

Rather, let me suggest that our aim is not balance, but rhythm: go too fast…you miss the whole thing and can’t remember how the song goes, let alone appreciate its beauty. Go too slow…apathy and lethargy set in and motivation hardly propels you to wear your uniform well, let alone make it through the day.

Settling into a good rhythm suggests we learn the necessity of dependency. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NASB). And we love this verse—because it reminds us that when we have overdone it and are carrying far more than Jesus ever intended, he says, “Let me help.” But he continues, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29 NASB). The key here is: “learn from me.”

Finding a good rhythm within the construct of officership, ministry, and life as missional Christians regardless of our rank or status demands attentiveness to the things God is concerned about: his kingdom, his purposes, his way and his approval. And it takes determinedness, on our part, to keep him first. “Learn from me.” Our collective call as kingdom-doers is to keep in this position of “always learning,” always being sourced and strengthened from the Great Teacher, and the one who provides us with all wisdom to know what exactly are his purposes and which way is his way.

It’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming. And for some, that reality is met with some trepidation. Whether it’s cleaning up feces from our back parking lot, sitting with a woman who weeps over her brokenness and homelessness, or coming home smelling like weed or cigarette smoke because being close to the poor sometimes means really being close to the poor. Life happens. And within the ranks for Salvation Army officership (and soldiership), real life happens. And while it does, my prayer for us is this: Lord, teach us to be wholly about your purposes. Give us rest through your Spirit. And give us vision to see things like you do.

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