The activity of the high-school lunchroom buzzed around us as Eve placed a white stone in my hand and closed my fingers around it with her own. I was trying to decide whether or not to move to the literal other side of the planet, and I had come to ask a trusted friend and mentor what to do.
Eve’s eyes searched mine as I turned the stone over in my hand. Her fingers were warm compared to the cold, smooth stone, and her words were warmer. “Katie, I just don’t think He cares as much about where you are going as He does about who you are becoming. Wherever you go, you will be His and He will be there.”
My 18-year-old heart and mind mulled over these words. I had recently left my heart in Uganda after a three-week trip, and I had asked her whether or not she thought I should move there after I graduated. Eve’s answer was not the “yes” or “no” that I had wanted. When I finally looked down at the stone in my hand, I saw, written in bold black letters, one word: “BONDSERVANT.” And then she spoke: “This is what we embrace in Christ, Katie. I see it in you.” She winked, and I watched her make her way back through the crowd of students.
I kept that stone, and when I finally decided that I would move to Uganda, I packed it in my bag and took it with me. For a while, it sat atop a stack of books that lay next to my bed in the closet-sized bedroom of the orphanage where I worked. Later I moved it to the bedside table of the small house I had rented so that I would be able to foster a sibling set of three in need of a temporary home. During that wild season, the white stone, smooth and compelling sat there and those black letters stared up at me with that word, bondservant.
At the time I didn’t know what it really meant. In the Greek, this word bondservant is doulos, a word used to describe a slave who had already gained his freedom by working the appointed amount of years to pay his debt, and yet willingly chose to remain with his master out of great love and devotion. In many cases, a bondservant would even beg to stay with his master, because being a member of the master’s family was even better than the idea of being a free man. Once the bondservant chooses to stay with his master’s family, the master takes an awl and uses it to nail a piece of the servant’s ear to the door (ouch!). Now he is marked. Now everyone will see and know – he is a part of this family.
The thought of being a slave or a servant probably repulses many of us in our culture built upon freedom and independence. We wrap our fingers tight around our freedoms, and they wrap their grip tightly around us too, entangling our hearts and taking hold of how we live. But I knew that deep down I was begging to stay with my Master. For my Father to secure me to Himself. For my everyday moments to be marked by His blood.
It has been more than ten years since I stood, a bit bewildered, turning that white stone over in my hand. I had no idea that the next decade would bring trials that would shake my faith to the core and joy beyond my wildest imagination. Now I have married my very favorite person, I have adopted 13 children and birthed one more. I have buried more friends than I care to count, I have battled long and hard for people imprisoned by addiction and terrible disease and sometimes I have won, but sometimes I have lost. I have laid prostrate on the bathroom floor and beat my hands against the tile and wondered if God could really be good in this terrible mess of a world and just days later I have raised hands high in praise and wondered why I, so undeserving, would be the recipient of so many great gifts.
Somewhere in between moving houses and growing our family and ministry and life, that white stone got lost. But I remember it, and I remember my eager high school heart, so certain that what God wanted of me was my service. And that was part of it. But a bondservant is so much more. What He wanted was my very self. The Bondservant is known; he is loved, and he is forever marked by his love and devotion to his Master. To be a bondservant is to willingly, joyfully choose our Master because the love we find in Him is the greatest freedom we could ever fathom.
It is not easy to lay down our wants, but it is always worth it, every single time. Sometimes I wrestle, and He takes my face into His hands and whispers my name, invites my eyes to look into His. And they are kind eyes — compassionate, gentle, and trustworthy. My flesh would rather it be my way, for it all to work out as I want, when I want, how I want. But what of the Master’s wants? Am I not marked by a love and devotion to Him, and isn’t being a member of His family better than being free and on my own? And do I not get the joy of being fully His – utterly, completely devoted to Him?
Today, I watch my children, my friends, my husband, my ministry, and I know. Bondservant doesn’t just mean the greatest sacrifice, it means the greatest joy. Bondservant doesn’t mean that I am to be God’s slave, it means I am to be His family. It doesn’t mean that I will follow Jesus in the most terrible of hard places because of simple obedience, but because of love. Because I love Him so much, all I want is to serve Him, to follow Him.
After the angel foretells to Mary that she will in fact be the woman to carry God incarnate into the world, “How can this be?” is her initial question. The angel answers simply that nothing could ever be impossible with God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she says. “May it be to me as you have said.” Doulos, “The Lord’s servant,” is her simple answer. Willingly, she means. Willingly she will choose to be a servant. Willingly she will choose this Master who has always given good gifts and with whom nothing is impossible.
Recommended Reads Giveaway:
Today we are excited to give away five copies of Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Davis Majors. To be entered for a chance to win this brand-new book, please leave a comment sharing what “bondservant” means to you (or why you’d love to read this book)! The giveaway will be closed at midnight (CST) on Tuesday, October 9. Winners will be randomly selected and must live in the U.S.
Katie Davis Majors moved to Uganda over a decade ago with no idea that this would be the place that God chose to build her home and her family. Today, she is a wife to Benji and mom to her fourteen favorite people. Katie and her family invest their lives in empowering the people of Uganda with education, medical care, and spiritual discipleship. She is also the founder of Amazima Ministries, an organization that cares for vulnerable children and families in Uganda and the author of the New York Times bestseller Kisses from Katie.
Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful is Katie’s latest book.