Did You Get What You Needed? ~ Guest Contributor, Sara Olson Smith
Earlier this year, I took part in a Women’s Empowerment Trip. An incredible organization called Empower Tanzania hosted us as we learned about their amazing work. We visited Maasai villages and learned about the vital need for clean and accessible water; we heard stories from survivors of gender based violence and celebrated their entrepreneurial ventures; we talked with community health workers and educators – women who walked for miles to improve the lives of their neighbors. All this was amazing, but one of my own surprising learnings happened not in a village or church, but in the tourist market in the big city of Arusha.
We stopped to get gifts to bring home with us. Homemade jewelry, carved figures, soccer jerseys. Truth is, I dreaded it. You see, I’m a 2 on the enneagram. Us “2s” have this need for connection. We build relationships wherever we go. And we are helpers. We try to respond to every need, to be there however and whenever we can. There’s a lot of good to this. It makes me a great pastor, friend and mother.
And it makes me a really perfect target for buying lots of things at a market in Africa.
There were so many beautiful things. Many amazing people who were so persistent. Somehow they learned my name, that I was a pastor. They wanted me to bless their shops. But I’m terrible at walking away. I’m no good at bargaining. I was a dream to those incredible artisans and salespeople. And I bought all the things. Eventually, out of money and energy, I went to our vans and hid.
My friends soon joined me and shared their joy of the market – the bargaining and walking away, the incredible creations and creators. I told my mom how overwhelmed I was, and she asked, “but did you get what you needed?”
My mom has watched me spend myself on all kinds of people and give myself away – mostly to my joy, but also to my loss. She regularly reminds me that my needs are important, too. So when I shook my head, my generous mom stuffed some shillings in my hands and told me to get what I still needed.
I knew exactly what it was. I told countless persistent salesmen “no” as I walked past until I found a woman, quietly beading a pair of sandals in a small stall near the back of the market. As I tried some sandals on, we talked about our children and she told me how she does all the beading herself, supporting her family. As I walked away, I realized I not only got the sandals I wanted, but some connection, too.
Today, I love to wear those sandals and remember that my own needs matter. I ask myself, especially when I’m feeling spent and overwhelmed, with so many people asking things of me, “but did you get what you needed?” Usually it’s simple – an hour alone, a walk, time with friends, conversation with my dear spouse. And it fills me up, ready to give again with joy and purpose.
For those of us who are really good at giving, serving, and sharing, those words from my mom can be a sacred question. It’s especially true for women, and particularly as “Enneagram 2s.” We often push our needs to the side, and have nothing left for ourselves or anyone else. Thankfully, our Generous and Holy Parent is there, asking us, “but, what is it you need?” and gives us a little extra grace and mercy to go find it.
Rev. Sara Olson-Smith serves as associate pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa. While parenting and pastoring fill much of her days, she loves to read, quilt, bake and grow zinnias.