Service: An Experience in Humility

As we close our time in the Sprititual Discipline of Service as considered in the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I think that it’s important to relate my own experience with it during the past week. For me, as Foster suggests, my focus on service has been an exercise in the cultivation of humility.

Perhaps a bit of background might help to explain. I grew up in a household with pretty strict divisions of labor. Tasks were assigned by sex, age, and/or experience. For example, unless it had to do with the grill, my dad was strictly uninvolved with meals. In the same way, I never remember seeing my mom out in the driveway with my dad when it came time to change the oil in my car. And when it came to the menial tasks like setting the table, or doing the dishes or cleaning up after the dog, that was the domain of the children. When we would ask our dad to buy a dishwasher he would usually laugh and say, “Why do I need another dishwasher? I already have three! Of course, he was referring to us, his three sons. Needless to say, we didn’t find his joke very amusing.

I relate my childhood experience to explain its effect: all of the above created in me an expectaction of a time when I too would be above certain tasks, when I would be able to dedicate myself to the important things, the manly things, and leave the tasks that I considered beneath me to others, namely my own children!

As I have spent time in reflection on the Discipline of Service, however, I have realized how it breaks down this division of labor, how it calls us to humble ourselves and to accept the personal responsibility to fill the need that’s before us. This is not to say that before this past week that I hadn’t done the dishes, or that I’d left Kelly to slave away in the kitchen to prepare each and every meal, but I have to admit that my default attitude toward such tasks had been that they were beneath me, that they didn’t belong to me. I would routinely find myself, as did the disciples before their last dinner with Jesus, making every attempt to avoid the menial yet necessary task, even when I was staring at, or perhaps, as in their case, smelling the call to service before me.

The most interesting observation for me, however, has been the freedom that this humility has given me to engage in truly meeting the need. Now, instead of complaining about something that has been left undone, I am free to simply do it myself. Instead of arguing about whose responsibility the task might be, I am liberated to simply step in and meet the need and enjoy the benefits for having done so.

Granted, this reflection is in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t come to an agreement beforehand about certain familial responsibilities or teach our children to participate around the home so that they too cultivate an attitude of service, but it does suggest that when others let us down, we still have a choice. We can pick them up or put them down. We can encourage through serving or embarrass through shaming. As we continue to progress in this discipline my prayer is that we will increasingly choose the former and not the latter.

How ahout you? As you’ve progressed this past week in the Discipline of Service or have had other experiences with this exercise, what have you observed either within you or among those you have served? I look forward to reading about your thoughts and experiences.

Image credit,”Washing dishes with soap“ by peapodlabs, used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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  1. Andrew’s avatar

    As a task-driven person, I have a bad habit of having blinders on to needs if they’re not on my To Do list. I’ve just recently begun to realize that “I’d be happy to do it if you just ask” isn’t always an acceptable response to my wife. I need to be more proactive in looking for ways to serve (not to mention my tendency to hide away when I see a need that I don’t want to address). Attending to needs is simply the expectation; seeking out needs is the standard we should be striving for.

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  2. Dave’s avatar

    OK. This is precisely the reason why I had to add those acts of service to my task list (remember Habitica?). This has helped me cultivate my task-oriented mentality while including the tasks that genuinely serve others.

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