by T.R. Robertson
I never liked tea much. I still don’t. Iced tea could be found in our refrigerator every summer when I was growing up, but while the rest of my family sipped their brisk glasses of tea, I went for the lemonade.
The girl I married likes tea. She prefers the hot variety. Earl Grey, Constant Comment, and a host of other fancy names for leaves in hot water. Her passion for tea has warmed with each passing year, while mine has remained tepid. And as her enthusiasm for tea has grown, her love for tea parties has also increased.
At least a dozen teapots and tea kettles can be found around our home, plus the requisite china dishes, cloth napkins, fresh flowers, scented candles, and enough freshly baked scones and quiche to supply a well-planned spontaneous tea party.
I still can’t abide a cup of tea but I’m a recent head-over-heels convert to a good cup of coffee. But there is one passion we share above all others: a passion for Christ. And a deep desire to be passionate about the things he is passionate for.
Like other Christians, we sometimes struggle to reconcile our passions for things of this world with our passion for Christ.
Some find the need to deny themselves the earthly things they have become so passionate about for the sake of Christ. No more tea parties, no more book clubs, no more social clubs. No more baseball or golf or Sunday afternoon football.
Others guiltily separate their lives into two sections—a passion for Christ and a passion for other things. And never the twain shall meet.
My wife has worked hard—you might say she has a passion—to blend the two.
A Passion for the Least of These
Jesus was passionate about meeting the needs of the unnoticed and unloved. He identified with them when he said, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36).
My wife and I travel every Monday to a women’s state prison to lead a worship service. Sometimes we have campus ministry staff members or students along with us, but often it’s just the two of us. Karen calls those Mondays our “date nights.”
We can’t take a tea set and tea bags with us into the institution. But Karen regularly tells the ladies she would love to have them over for a tea party, and they’ll just have to make do. She makes do by sitting and talking to the gray-clad women with the same relaxed grace she shares with friends over tea in our home.
She asks them with real concern—sometimes with tears—about their children, who are often in foster care. She listens as they talk about the small pastimes they cling to in their restricted lives, and about the things they miss so much—fresh eggs, hanging the wash out to dry, teaching children in Sunday school.
The ladies in prison respond to her passion for Christ and her affection for them. In a place where women learn to be in tight control of their emotions, to never let anyone discover their most personal passions, Karen’s unreserved joy in Christ and her willingness to be vulnerable with them provide a breath of fresh air.
A Passion for Children
Jesus was also passionate about children, inviting them to come near him, blessing them when others would rather push them away.
Karen loves to invite children to tea parties. Carson, a four-year-old son of friends, knows he is loved and blessed when Nana Karen invites him into our home and shares her pot of tea with him. He has his own favorite teacup and his favorite kind of tea. He sits and talks to her about his four-year-old concerns and the wonders of his child-like faith. Hopefully he will still be willing to talk over a cup of tea when he is 16.
This past summer Karen came across a 10-year-old girl who was basically looking out for herself during summer break. She looked, as Karen says, like a 10-year-old punk: piercings, bleached hair, sloppy clothes, and black nail polish, speaking words about death and gloom and darkness.
Karen invited her to sit and have tea with her. Guarding her enthusiasm, and thus her heart, the girl talked of unimportant things while drinking tea from a china cup, eating cookies from a heart shaped plate, and pouring tea from “a real live teapot.” It turned out that while on the outside she’s tough and worldly, on the inside she’s all about pink and princesses and hearts and flowers. Secretly, on the inside, she’s looking for life.
A Passion for Opportunities
Jesus’ greatest joy seemed to come not from crying out to the crowds, but in reaching out to the people he encountered along the way, seizing the opportunity afforded by every stranger, every unexpected question, every diversion.
Busy mothers bring their children to our house for piano lessons and soon find themselves disappointed to have to leave, wanting to talk more with the teacher about things unrelated to piano. An invitation to return for tea on another day, at an hour when the kids are at school, leads to a relationship steeped in grace.
We used to live on the edge of the University of Missouri campus. Karen discovered the joy of sitting on our front porch in the morning, savoring a cup of tea and spending time with her Bible and prayer journal. Hundreds of young college students walked by on their way to classes, morning after morning, day after day. She would smile and greet each one as they came by (even those enclosed in a private bubble of iPods and cell phones)—a 10-15 second visit five days a week.
A few of those students would stop a time or two, whether from curiosity or homesickness—or maybe the Holy Spirit’s nudging. They would never stay long, perhaps a 10-minute visit. Long enough to share a raspberry scone, a cup of breakfast tea, and some not-so-small talk about their very real hunger for a life slowed down enough for tea and prayer.
A Passion for Mentoring
Jesus was passionate about mentoring those close to him. He taught his disciples as they walked along, telling them stories, helping them see the ordinary through his unique Heaven-illumined perspective, patiently pulling them through their failures toward victories.
Karen’s passion for mothering expressed itself toward our own children, but she has continued to be a spiritual mother to countless young women, their children, and even their husbands. She listens with the patient and knowing ears of her Lord, and speaks with the insight and loving heart she has gained from knowing his heart.
She has invited countless young mothers to tea. She listens to their heartaches as they sip their tea, and she passes them a plate of scones while they tell cherished stories about their children, their own mothers, and their husbands.
As one generation of spiritual daughters grows older and needs her less, she moves on to a new generation. She’s been hosting a weekly tea with college girls in our living room for the past few months. One of them is the spiritual daughter of one of Karen’s earlier spiritual daughters. She calls Karen her spiritual grandmother, and is learning to make scones—while also developing a passion for the things that matter most to Jesus.
T.R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
What’s Your Cup of Tea?
As you read, Karen uses her passion for tea to reach out to others with the love of God. She combines her passion for tea with her passion for Jesus and people.
• What passions do you have that could be used to reach others with God’s love?
• How can you use these passions to spread the light of Jesus?
• Who could be encouraged with those passions?
• Now get specific: begin planning some dates and times when you will use your passions to encourage others. Decide who you would like to reach out to during those times.