By Sharon Gartland

Reflection: Poured Out

I’ve been donating blood since I was in high school. It is a simple thing I can do that makes a difference in people’s lives. I’m told one pint of my blood, which I won’t even miss, can save the lives of three people. That makes me feel warm and glowing inside and is a fact I intend to remind Jesus of when I get to Judgment Day. Recently, however, it didn’t go so well.

I had received my reminder call from the Red Cross telling me I was eligible to give again, so I scheduled the appointment and appeared on time. The local staff person got me right in, and stuck the needle in to start the process. Nothing came out. She called the experienced clinician, who shifted the needle (ouch), repositioned me, and finally got things flowing. Slowly the bag began to fill, but it required two technicians huddled by my side holding the bag and the needle in just the right spot. I dutifully squeezed the ball they give me and tried to relax and get my blood to flow freely. After a long period of time, and numerous stoppages, my blood clotted before there was enough to fill up a pint. The blood can’t be used unless the bag is full. The whole venture was for naught. I went home sore and frustrated, feeling like I didn’t deserve the juice and cookies they gave me.

So many of us are busy pouring ourselves out on a daily basis, only to feel like it was for nothing in the end. We come up short of a pint, not able to save anybody, and sore, cranky and disappointed to boot. The need to be superwomen, to save the day, and give of our lifeblood runs pretty strong in my crowd.

I have always been drawn to the “save the world” type of people, activists who care about the poor and righting injustices, who want to make a difference. A long time friend I deeply respect once observed that we both wanted to make the world a better place, but she was banking on the goodness and power of humanity and I was banking on the goodness and power of God. She had put her finger on the precise philosophical divide between us. But the truth is, in practice, I am still often banking on my own and others’ goodness, regularly disappointed at the reality that it is not enough.

Paul describes himself being “poured out like a drink offering” in Philippians 2:17. But even Paul, for all his impressive efforts, education, and giftedness, was not enough. He too was short of a full pint, unable to save any life, including his own. Jesus is the only one adequate to the task. His blood, shed on the cross, is the only blood that enables Paul’s efforts and mine to be of any use to God. As I worked through my irritation at wasting several hours giving an insufficient amount of blood, God began to gently turn my eyes to this obvious metaphor.

Most mornings, I wake up assaulted with thoughts of all the things I haven’t done yet, or need to do better. Some of you may lie awake at night pondering similar issues. By the end of the day, I feel poured out, wondering if it was enough. The truth is, it never is and never will be. And that is starting to be a relief to me. No amount of good intentions and intense effort will ever fully save anybody or accomplish anything that really matters to God. Jesus will not be swayed by my 80+ pints of donated blood on Judgment Day. Instead he will point to his blood, pooled in the ground at the foot of the cross, and pronounce me worthy because of it.

His blood also enables my offering to be accepted by God. In him, my tainted, imperfect contributions are made useful, pure, and holy. Taking communion should remind all of us that he is sufficient for us, refilling our cups and covering our inadequacies. We are invited to the table to partake in the wine and bread, no matter what we produced that week. This is our “juice and cookies,” the replenishment we need regardless of the outcome of our efforts.

I hope I haven’t discouraged anyone from blood donation. I’m going to try again in eight weeks, making sure I arrive well-hydrated and ready to go. You readers who come to The Well are much like the apostle Paul, gifted, highly educated, hard working, with much to offer in the service of the Gospel. Let’s continue to pour ourselves out on behalf of Christ in the many ways He asks us to, but let’s do it as an offering, not an accomplishment. God gets the credit and glory for what is accomplished and we get the joy of participating in His kingdom purposes, without all that performance anxiety and guilt. His grace is sufficient for me.

About the Author

Sharon Gartland, OTD, OTR, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Occupational Therapy Program at UW-Madison where her specialty is in developmental disabilities.  She enjoys the combination of teaching, administrative and clinical responsibilities that makes up her job. She is the former national director of Women in the Academy & Professions and continues to participate in the ministry as a volunteer and frequent contributor. She is married to Craig Gartland, a local church pastor and former long-term InterVarsity staff and leader. Together they have four children who are gradually getting launched into the world as functional adults but continue to store a lot of their stuff in the basement. She believes strong prayer practices and a supportive faith community are key to flourishing in career and family life. 

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