Service

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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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As we return to our consideration of the Spiritual Discipline of service, considered in the book, Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, we turn from our pretexts for not serving, about which we spoke two days ago (i.e. we don’t want to be taken advantage of or be walked up like a doormat.) to now to look at our aversion to the activity of service. This quote from Foster seems to exemplify that aversion:

“In some ways we would prefer to hear Jesus’ call to deny father and mother, houses and land for the sake of the gospel than his word to wash feet. Radical self-denial gives the feel of adventure. If we forsake all, we even have the chance of glorious martyrdom. But in service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial.”

Carrying our cross, following after Jesus to the “ends of the earth.” that is the stuff of sermons, the call that fills the altars, the great work that we feel that we must do, but washing the dishes, setting up chairs, sitting and listening to that person we know will carry on about their difficulties, that is that slow death that we wish to avoid. And yet, if we are to embrace the Disciplines and their work in us , shouldn’t we seek after those deaths, knowing that it will prepare us for that great work that we feel we have been called to accomplish?

Perhaps a change in perspective is what we need. Caedmon’s Call recorded a song some time ago called “Sacred“. It’s a song of a mom asking the question “Could it be that everything is sacred?” as she serves her small children. The chorus ends, “Could it be that everything is sacred, and all this time, everything I’ve dreamed of (that calling, that great work), that has been right before my eyes?” Service, then, may not the distraction from the work that we are called to do but the way to step into it.

What are the areas that you feel have been pulling you from your “calling” today? Household chores undone, a child’s homework, a dirty diaper, a friend’s telephone call? Perhaps it’s not a distraction but an opportunity. Why not try to embrace that moment of service, understanding that if we are to be great we must first become a servant (Matt 20:25-28). If you can, share about the experience.

Image credits: Jesus washing feet statue WLC by txnetstars, used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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