A conversation with author Shannan Martin
WORDS // Tricia Morgan PHOTOS // Courtesy of Shannan Martin
Have you ever prayed to God to see the world and the people around you the way He does? Author Shannan Martin has made this prayer a regular practice. She writes about the abundant life change it created in her second and newest book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You.
Formerly known as the Flower Patch Farm Girl lifestyle blogger, Shannan, over the course of several years, gained a following of readers who were captivated by her voice for simple yet beautiful living in the rural farmhouse of her and her husband Cory’s dreams. But when Shannan and Cory had all but secured the elusive dream life, things inside and outside of their control began to lay bare the misguided idealisms and pursuits they had been chasing. The loss of both of their jobs in federal politics along with the adoption of their four children led to radical shifts in their idea of Christian living.
“We were living as though our job as good Christian people was to create a life for ourselves and our kids that was as secure and as comfortable as possible,” explains Shannan.
“We started to inspect the gospels and the life of Jesus through a new lens. Our eyes were opened to the heart of God who cared deeply for the poor and the marginalized. We started to hone in on the language that Jesus uses over and over about loving our neighbor and lifting our neighbor up before ourselves. We had to grapple with the reality that we were not living that way,” Shannan admits.
Loving your neighbor is for everyone.
In the pages of The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan shares her journey of surrender through her revelation from “good Christian” to attentive neighboring. She gives practical insights into what it looks like to live and love as a neighbor. Echoed throughout the book is the resounding truth that loving your neighbor is for everyone. She writes, “our vocation is to invest deeply in the lives of those around us, devoted to another.” To do this, we have to be present and actively attentive in our neighborhoods and places of work. “Simply put, we cannot love what we do not know. We cannot know what we do not see. We cannot see anything, really, until we devote ourselves to the lost art of paying attention.” This is the way of Jesus, drawing near to those around him in mercy.
Simply put, we cannot love what we do not know. We cannot know what we do not see. We cannot see anything, really, until we devote ourselves to the lost art of paying attention.
Shannan outlines several ways her family draws near in mercy to their neighbors. Like many small midwestern cities, the population where they reside includes immigrants, people in work release programs from the local prison and families battling loved one’s addictions. In this complicated, fractured world, we can get stuck in the clouds with feelings of hopelessness.
When you are watching the news, for example, and you feel a disconnect between what’s going on in the world and what you can feasibly do about it, Shannan advises “come down to street level where actual people live, whose lives are meant to intersect with yours.” She continues, “What I have found is that a lot of the problems that are circulating in the air above my head are also playing out right down here at street level. What would it look like to throw my door open?”
Shannan provides a surprising answer. Allow your neighbor to help you. Allowing someone else to help you in a big or small way is an immediate way to open up your life to your neighbor. We often serve others with the notion that we are going to give away our time or our resources, but Shannan challenges this thought and writes that most people want “the kind of friendship that is defined by mutuality.” We all want to believe we have something to offer.
Challenging us to receive rather than give is perhaps not the most upside down encouragement given in Shannan’s Ministry of Ordinary Places, though. In her chapter titled, “Let’s Stop Loving On the Least of These,” Shannan shares that loving your neighbor does not involve showing up in neighborhoods where long haul relationships have not been made. Her concern is the “the obvious power imbalance at play when we feel at liberty to show up in a place we know little about, bearing a rescue no one asked for.” She points out that loving our neighbors goes beyond showing up for a single event to help a certain neighborhood, and it goes beyond asking someone to join us at church. It means entering into the mess: both the joy and the pain of our neighbor’s lives as they enter into ours. Shannan poses the question, “what if we all made a pact to not invite anyone to church if we hadn’t already invited them over for a meal?”
What I have found is that a lot of the problems that are circulating in the air above my head are also playing out right down here at street level.
Shannan summarizes practical ways the well-known scripture verses in Matthew 25: 35-36 can be applied: “I was a single mom, and you offered me a free night off. I was new to America, and you showed me around town. I was released from jail, and you bought me steel-toed boots for my factory job. I was racked with anxiety, and you listened without checking your phone. I was in jail, and you put money on my books for shampoo and a sports bra.”
Martin believes that as humans we are hard-wired to avoid tension and pain. Our impulse is to look away and distract ourselves. But in her beautifully crafted and insightful book, Shannan points us to this Jesus who shows us that neighboring is walking straight into the pain of the person who is near. “That’s what abundant life is, it means that we get all of it. We get to celebrate, and we get to suffer with the people near us.” This is where God’s goodness dwells – in our everyday, ordinary places.
Join the conversation. In what ways have you been called to minister in the ordinary places? Leave us a comment below.
You can follow Shannan at www.shannanmartinwrites.com.