Joe Reagan used to believe caring for his wife and kids was entirely up to him. But when hard times struck and friends offered to help feed his family, Reagan realized the grace of God was at work in his life in ways he hadn’t previously understood.
In the fall of 1993, I was wrapping up a failed business venture. I was also hospitalized that year, which further wreaked havoc on my business and left us digging out from medical bills. My wife Julie and I had started a family; we had two small children—John, age two, and Sarah, age one—and Amanda on the way.
By this time in my life, I had surrendered most of my life to God. But I lived by a pious motto attributed to St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” That seemed to me like a logical division of labor. So I worked with all the self-will I could muster while praying for God’s will to be done, especially to help me take care of this growing and beautiful family.
But this belief was soon to be shaken when I realized one night that fall that we had absolutely, completely run out of money. We had $25 in the checking account, no credit, and little food in the house. Some cash might be coming in about two weeks, but none until then. For someone whose self-image was completely wrapped up in winning in business and taking care of my family at home, this was devastating. Despite my hard work and tenacity, I could not change what was happening.
And then, on top of being pregnant, Julie became very painfully ill.
Julie had a friend in our parish who found out she was sick. It was not uncommon for friends to organize meals when a baby is born, but this friend had had the experience of being pregnant and sick and realized what a burden that is, and that a time such as that is when the meals would really be needed. So she sprang into action and organized ten days of meals for our family.
Now she did not know anything about our financial situation; she was just acting out her faith. But here she was at our doorstep with meals for the next day and promises of meals for the next ten days. Each evening the doorbell would ring and I would open it up to see the face of God standing there with a casserole. Those wonderful women had no idea what they were really bringing into our home and what lesson they were teaching me.
On the tenth day, Julie realized we had no milk, which was a necessity in a home with two small children. She was going to scrounge around in coat pockets in hopes of finding some milk money when the doorbell rang. There was another of Julie’s friends, with a sack full of meals and two gallons of milk. Julie was absolutely shocked. “Why would you bring us milk?” she asked.
“I didn’t even think about it,” her friend replied, “Why wouldn’t I? You have to have some milk with your meal.” Again, this friend was oblivious to the true challenge we had. All my effort—my working like it was all up to me—could not even produce a gallon of milk for my family. But through these faithful, loving women, God was doing for me what I could not do for myself.
I abandoned the belief of praying like it’s all up to God and working like it’s all up to me, and instead I began to accept that all of my life—prayer and work—rests in God alone.
Not that I stopped working. But I now believe that I work by the grace of God and try most days to dedicate my work for the glory of God. What is up to me is to be still and know that God is God, and I am not.
Joe Reagan is president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Reagan previously served as president and CEO for 14 years at Greater Louisville Inc., the chamber of commerce and economic development organization in Louisville, Kentucky, and he is a previous executive with the Rockford, Illinois, chamber of commerce. He and his wife Julie are blessed with seven wonderful children.
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