Join Jan in exploring the critical pieces of spiritual friendship: hospitality, encouragement, acceptance, serving, and caring. With seasoned wisdom and winsome stories, Jan uses personal experiences to walk you through what each of these things can mean in your life. You can have rich, rewarding, faith-filled friendships that emerge from the everyday rhythms of your days—and Becoming Gertrude will lead you on that journey.
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Read an Excerpt
Choosing to See Others
... and place it before God as an offering.
How do we become caring people? When I pondered that question, one word came to my mind: practice. We all start out self-centered — me, me, me. In order to develop a caring spirit, we need to become intentionally aware of the needs of others. As we begin to see the needs all around us, and make it our mission to address those needs, caring for others gets worked into the fabric of our lives.
Our first practice of caring often comes through the home we grew up in. All of us are selfish as little people. Our wants are our world. And so perhaps a parent, an older sibling, or a grandparent identified and corrected our behavior time and time again, pointing out when we were being uncaring and coaching us toward behavior that showed love for others.
Perhaps we saw a caring spirit modeled by those closest to us in our growing-up years, as I saw in my visits with Gertrude, visit after visit. My parents also showed me what it looked like to care for other people — my father particularly. And I just soaked that in. Part of growing our caring muscles, practicing how to care for someone else, is paying attention to who is doing it well around us.
If you didn't grow up in an environment where caring was normal, I'm so sorry. My heart aches for the young people I see in our community who are trying to live in the midst of painful circumstances. More and more families are broken, and more and more kids are growing up in difficult situations. But just because you grew up in a hard home doesn't mean you can't develop rich spiritual friendships. You, too, can exercise your caring muscles. Observe someone you admire. Find someone who could sit with you and talk about what caring for people looks like. We become like those we spend the most time with. So choose to spend time with people who are caring.
But at some point, simply seeing caring in action or being told to do it isn't enough. We have to choose to look outside ourselves. We have to choose to see the hurting people in our community — or right next door. And in our friendships, we have to choose to say, "You first." What does that mean? Well, it means being slow to speak and quick to listen. What does the person in front of you need? Are you willing to make yourself uncomfortable and even inconvenienced to step into those needs with them? Maybe it's simply listening and offering words of love and encouragement, or maybe it's taking the time to help them move or to watch their kids or to make them a meal. Jesus said, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." And "love one another; for love is of God." This others-focused life is the life God wants us to live — a life of not overlooking the needs around us but of choosing to see and deciding to care.
But — and this is important — sometimes in all that caring for others, we need to learn how to care for ourselves as well. This is different from a selfish, me-first attitude; instead, it's being aware enough to not overdo it, to take a deep breath and maybe seek out a spiritual elder or soul friend to talk to if your caring gets off-balance. We cannot care well for others if we are burned out and exhausted. We are not supposed to set our needs aside completely. We must understand when we hit our limit and when our caring for others becomes unhelpful because we're doing it from a completely empty place. And, like all aspects of spiritual friendship, this is when we need to be humble enough to receive. Let your friends care for you. Let them help you when you are in need of support, whether emotional or physical or spiritual. And as you are filled, pass the gift along.
It's appropriate that we should look at this idea of caring first, because if we do not care for others, the foundation of spiritual friendship is nonexistent. We cannot accept, serve, show hospitality, or encourage others without first caring for them.
As we seek to care for others, we can easily limit ourselves to wherever we feel most comfortable. But to truly develop a caring spirit in our spiritual friendships, we need to be intentional, to care for people in all aspects of our lives. We can't simply choose to care for those who are easy to care about. It's like Jesus said in Luke 6:32-33 (NIV), "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? ... And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?" We all like to care for people who are easy to love. But caring needs to go beyond that to people who are hard to love, whether because of personality differences or relational struggles or simply the fact that they're strangers.
As we unpack this component of caring in spiritual friendship, we need to pay attention to every single aspect: caring for the larger world, caring for the needy in our communities, and caring for the people we're in regular relationship with. Keeping in mind this larger vision of caring will develop a compassion and sensitivity to see each and every person as God sees them, and it will help us know how best to reach out to them with care. In spiritual friendship, we need to trust God's leading for how to best care for the people he's placed in our lives. Learning to care in every aspect of our lives will help us do that.
Caring for the World
Caring for the larger world involves awareness, compassion, and sacrifice. We need to develop hearts that are aware of what God is doing, where people in the world are being treated unfairly or hurting, and what we can do about it. Caring always involves action. It's not just a feeling.
For me, caring in this way first emerged in the '60s, as I was faced with the issues of peace and racial justice. But as I saw the racial tensions around me and I became more and more aware of the unjust ways African Americans were treated, I knew that caring meant I needed to get involved. I joined our county's Fair Housing Committee to advocate for what I knew was right.
When my neighbor across the street learned of my involvement, he wasn't very happy. He was a member of St. Margaret's Catholic Church in Bel Air and was apparently getting his ears full from the priests about the injustice of unfair housing. He said to me one day, "You people who don't own your own houses can talk this way because you don't have any investment in a house. You have nothing to lose. We do. If a black family were to move into our neighborhood, our property value would go way down."
As he criticized me, I realized that a lot more was at stake than just a good idea about equality for all. What I believed couldn't just stay an idea. Standing up for what was right was going to take action. I needed to actively care for people who were being treated unjustly.
I stayed on the Fair Housing Committee.
The Catholics were being very outspoken about the issue of fair housing, so one day I asked Eugene why he didn't preach about fair housing and other civil rights issues. He said, "I believe if I preach biblically and show people the gospel as lived out that they'll 'get' it. That they will see and grow into this from who they are learning to be and not by having it imposed on them from the outside." I respected that. We each cared for others, but our approaches were different — his was preaching the gospel and encouraging people toward heart change, and mine was getting more actively involved in specific issues.
In the places and ways we care for the larger world around us, change doesn't take place overnight. Growth is slow. I have learned that firsthand over the years. I know that the end results are more solid and true if change emerges out of God's work in our hearts as he shows us how to care for the people around us. If I just do what someone tells me to do out of my Christian duty, my care for others doesn't get embedded as deeply in my heart. If my character and conscience are informed, my care for others is more solid, more real, and more true.
As we work out our "care muscles," we might be surprised by how our hearts expand to reach out further to the world around us. This was certainly true for me. Around the same time that I started working for fair housing, I began reading about world hunger. The denomination was speaking up about it, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and figure out what I could do. I couldn't solve world hunger, but I could learn to see the needs of others and understand the impact of how we live here in America. I could do something tangible to remind myself of the needs around the world and help others see them as well. That's the thing about developing a heart to care for the world: You don't have to do big things. You can simply do small things right where you are.
The concern about world hunger was in the air at that time. It wasn't just something I was wrestling with — it was on the minds and hearts of people who were conscientious about the world around them. Choosing to be a part of that conversation was another way of practicing caring; I was observing the caring people around me and what they were paying attention to, and that helped me choose to pay attention to the struggles in the world around me.
Being observant like this also sensitizes you to people around you who are less fortunate. It makes you aware of what other people are going through. Having that spirit within you helps you notice more and more and see things that are not the way they should be.
As I learned more about world hunger, I decided that a practical way for me to understand the struggles of others more deeply was to change how I cooked and ate. I got books out of the library. I bought the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. Then I came across Frances Moore Lappé's work in eating less or no meat using her study of complementary proteins in her Diet for a Small Planet, and I read its companion book, Recipes for a Small Planet, by Ellen Buchman Ewald. We started eating fewer meat-based meals and more complementary protein dishes. Using food resources differently seemed like a simple and sensible way to remind myself of the hunger of others in my everyday life.
After getting into the rhythm of cooking and eating this way, I wanted to share what I had learned and get other people engaged with the hunger issues in our world and how our eating habits could make a positive difference for others. So I put together kitchen labs for any women in our church who might be interested. Then, at the beginning of Lent, I put together a program after our Lenten dinner to talk about what we as a congregation could do to help alleviate some of the magnitude of suffering that other countries were facing. I showed a film during the program to help provide broader perspective; it was mostly on multinational corporations and how we Americans were using much more of the world's resources than any other nation per capita.
It was at this point that I was once again faced with the choice to evaluate my commitment to care for those facing injustice and pain in the world around me. (I'm not saying everyone is going to be led to care for the same things — but this is where I had been drawn to.) A man in our church who was (and still is) a good friend was fairly offended by the point made in the film — because he worked for a multinational company. Ouch! Here I was again, facing pushback for where God was leading me in caring for others, just as I'd experienced with my stance on fair housing. More soul-searching. More prayer. More commitment than I had bargained on. (After all, I'm just a sweet southern belle!) But my heart and spirit said I must share about the poverty and injustice in the world.
We're not necessarily going to change the world with our decisions. I knew that. But if we're faithful to act and engage, maybe our hearts and commitments will follow — and maybe those around us will be encouraged to care more deeply in turn.
We had a good friend visit us as I was engaging with this conversation about world hunger. He traveled a lot with an organization that worked with helping people. And this friend of ours loved meat! He always ordered steak when eating out in a restaurant because "you can't do much to hurt steak." I was having a meatless meal the night he was with us, so I told him a little apologetically what I was doing. "You're not going to make much impact on world hunger around your dining-room table!" he said.
"I know," I told him, "but it might change me so that I'm more aware, more conscious of others with much less than I have." And I know it has. And I hope it changed some of the families in our church as well, and — who knows? — their children, too.
Caring for the Needy
Jesus tells us to care for others. We live very selfishly as a culture. Choosing to see what others are going through, caring for them in the midst of what they're dealing with, helps us get outside of our selfish mindsets and understand what other people need. We need to choose to be aware. Caring for others doesn't mean looking down on them. But it does mean entering into their world, coming alongside them, showing them compassion and respect. While caring for the larger world is a good start, we can put our commitment into even more direct action by caring for the needy in our communities.
The women from our church, along with people from other churches in the county, had a clothing center where needy folks could come and buy clothing. Yes, buy. A quarter for a pair of kids' jeans, fifteen cents for a shirt. A quarter for a pair of shoes, etc. Being able to buy something ourselves, no matter how small the cost, helps us find self-respect and dignity, even in financially hard situations. Now, if someone really wanted something but didn't have any more money, we'd laugh and say something like "I can see you can't live without that dress. So just take it. And enjoy wearing it because the color is great for you."
I currently volunteer at our local food bank and enjoy that so much. I need to volunteer working with those less fortunate than myself. When you live in suburbia with all your neighbors financially on par with you, you need to be reminded that some people have harder lives and struggle to make ends meet.
In the early years of our marriage, I sometimes felt like I was the "other." Eugene and I were right down near the poverty level. Our home was provided for us by the church, so our salary wasn't on par with our neighbors'. But I eventually realized that we were making less each year because we weren't getting a cost-of-living increase. I was married to a pastor who wasn't making that much anyway — and still, for years, he wouldn't accept a raise in salary when the financial committee suggested it because he "just wanted the church to get on its feet" financially.
It was during these times of need that others reached out and showed me what caring truly looks like. I remember walking down the aisles of the grocery store one summer day, trying to figure out what I could possibly buy for supper that night. But cooking everything from scratch helped. No prepared foods. It was right after that summer day that a woman in our church started bringing us produce from her wonderful garden. A lifesaver! She also loved our children and bought them a pony for them to ride at her place.
In the midst of all of our caring for others, loving and serving a church congregation and stretched thin financially, someone cared for us.
We were a one-car family at that time, so Eugene and I had to plan ahead for when I could use the car for grocery shopping. One day, friends from our former church in New York called us up and told us they had a Renault that the husband had been using to drive to the train station for his daily commute into the city. He wouldn't be needing the car any longer — would we have use for it?
Would we? We drove up the next week to pick up our little car. But at the same time our friends cared so generously and specifically for our needs, I remember feeling like a charity case. As someone born at the end of the Great Depression, I had never been given much in life and I never really expected anything, much less a car. But I had to push down my pride. We were not within walking distance of anything except our church, which was a quarter mile away. This had been a cornfield one-and-a-half miles from the town of Bel Air, our little colonial town. With a second car, Eugene and I didn't have to jostle the use of a vehicle.
I had to push down my pride a number of times. Parishioners who were moving to Florida had a freezer they weren't taking with them and wondered if we might like to have it. Someone also gave me blankets and sheets they weren't using. I put them to good use on my daughter's twin beds. A number of other gifts came along the way.
I was grateful for the generosity of our friends. I was glad I learned to push down my pride and allowed our friends to show me what unselfish caring looked like.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Becoming Gertrude"
Copyright © 2018 Janice Peterson.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: The Way of Spiritual Friendship, xiii,
CHAPTER 1: CARING: Choosing to See Others, 1,
CHAPTER 2: ACCEPTANCE: Receiving What Is Offered, 29,
CHAPTER 3: SERVICE: Caring in Action, 45,
CHAPTER 4: HOSPITALITY: Reaching Out and Bringing In, 65,
CHAPTER 5: ENCOURAGEMENT: Building Others Up, 87,
Afterword by Eugene Peterson, 121,
What People are Saying About This
Jan Peterson’s reflections on spiritual friendship exude warmth and wisdom, just as she does. Her dedication to the practice of hospitality and faithful friendship over a lifetime is evident in every gracious word. Becoming Gertrude also invites us to explore our own unique calling to love and service and assures us we will never regret the journey. I am really grateful for this gem of a book.
Spending a few hours with Jan Peterson is delicious! Becoming Gertrude is not only about spiritual friendshipit is a taste of the real thing. The most personal is the most universal, and this book is truth conveyed through personality. Read Jan’s heart and then watch how she gently moves you forward in your faith journey. What a gift and what a delight!
I only recently met Jan, but her writing mirrors my experience of her: warm, direct, and insightful. We should all become Gertrude, we should all receive Gertrude, and we should all keep this book close by to read and read again.
Jan’s words here are like a literal gift to your heart and soul. Her masterful, luminous wisdom will not only inspire and encourage you to do the hard and holy work of digging deep into true community but will gently hand you the tools necessary to become a truly safe place for someone else’s heart. Her life is a living, breathing example of friendship personified, and you’ll close the pages of this book a better person because of it.
Jan Peterson’s book Becoming Gertrude is a must-read. I find such inspiration in its life lessons that I walk away uplifted and motivated to care, accept, serve, offer hospitality, and encourage others in new ways. Her insights reveal how each of us is uniquely made and called to make a beautiful impact for the cause of love in tangible ways. I can’t wait to live out this book’s life-giving principles.
Like her welcoming friend, Gertrude, Jan Peterson welcomes her readers into a winsome, gentle conversation about the meaning and value of spiritual friendship. Through stories accumulated over decades of marriage and ministry alongside her pastor-husband, Eugene, Jan illustrates how each of us can create relationships that nurture our own soul and bless the world at the same time. I finished Becoming Gertrude with a reluctant sigh, because I wanted to hear more from this unpretentious and vibrant woman who possesses a true servant’s heart.
For sixty years, Jan Peterson has served Christ’s church. But what stands out to me is the way she’s done it. Instead of white-knuckling her way through, Jan has done this work with a gentle touch and an infectious joy. Her life is proof that the life of pastoral ministry can be a yoke that’s easy and a burden that’s light. While so many are familiar with Eugene’s ministry, anyone who knows the Petersons knows that Jan has made Eugene’s work possible all these years. She is one of those hidden figures that makes the Kingdom of God go. As I hold this book, I rejoice because the treasury of Jan Peterson’s life is now available for generations to come. Now take and read.
Everyone needs a friend like Jan Peterson. She honors friendship as the sacrament it is, and in her personal and heartwarming story, Becoming Gertrude, Jan doesn’t just celebrate this sacramentshe gently shares how to exercise our “caring muscles” in ways that truly matter. Jan’s soulful and intentional approach to friendship is refreshing in this day of device-based interactions. She has inspired me, prompted me, and taught me more about the importance (and necessity!) of caring, acceptance, service, hospitality, and encouragement in our everyday, ordinary lives. The world needs more people like Jan and Eugene Peterson, who are day-to-day Christ followers in all they domarriage, ministry, family, and friendship. Becoming Gertrude is a book that helps you become more like Jesus.
With warmth and wisdom, Janice Peterson beautifully reveals how loving others not only deepens our love for God but also brightens an often dark and lonely world. What a little gem this book is.
Having spent time in the Petersons’ home, I can say that Jan lives what she writes. She exudes spiritual friendship with authenticity, passion, and grace. In our day of division, anger, and intolerance, we need people like her more than ever. Read this little gem slowly, soak it in, practice it faithfully, and live into it personally.