“In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve.” -- Brennan Manning, Abba's Child
Human beings are not wired to glory in serving others.
From times ancient to the present, across continents and cultures, those being served are revered while those doing the serving are reviled.
How mysterious, how puzzling then that the One who created all things, the One for whom all things were created, would choose to step into humanity and reveal himself as a servant, to dwell among us as one who serves. And Christ wasn't content to merely serve others in his time on this planet; no, he makes it clear that if anyone is to follow after him, we must also be willing to self-identify as servants of the humanity surrounding us.
And so we do.
We buck it up, buttercup. We deliver hot meals to moms. We help friends move. We stay after the service to stack folding chairs. We offer rides to those without a vehicle. We wipe noses and soothe midnight fears. We feed those who can't feed themselves. We scrub dishes and toilets. We even do the dreaded nursery duty. We grin and bear it because the Bible tells us so.
But we aren't wired to glory in serving, and after a while, we get tired.
We get tired of bucking it up and begin to fear we're just mucking it up, and that somewhere out there, Jesus is disappointed in our less than whole-hearted efforts. So we try harder, we seek to find contentment - joy, even - in our downstairs at Downton assignment in life, but eventually our resolve to try harder at happily serving wears thin. Our flesh chafes against the admonition to serve, and rather than dwelling in lush meadows and drinking from streams of life-giving water, we wander through a desert, parched and gritty and mad.
We start to eye new people and situations warily, wondering if this is just the next Needy McWantstoomuch that God is going to shoehorn into our lives. Exhausted of our own resources and resolve, we may even turn from the faith, burned out and tired. So very, very tired.
And in all of this, when I say we, I of course, mean me.
A few days ago, Caitlin emailed me after reading my original post on waiting tables to share some insights she had gleaned from time spent literally waiting tables at a restaurant right here in OKC. Her words connected some significant dots for me, and she has given me permission to share them here:
I love that you draw on the practice of waiting tables as an example of service. You see, I am a single, 24-year-old, post-conservative, evangelical, Jesus feminist, part-time ESL teacher. And I'm also a waitress-bartender.
All those labels really mean is that given my background, I never imagined I would become a server after receiving my bachelor's degree in anthropology from a Baptist liberal arts university almost three years ago.
. . .
When I graduated university, I did my best in a floundering job market to remember my idealism and try to serve the Lord, I wound up a year and a half later with my first "service industry" job in Oklahoma City. I became a waitress at an Italian restaurant during dinner shifts so I could be spending my daytime volunteering where I thought God wanted me to serve.
Little did I know I had a lot to learn about service. And much of what I had to learn came through waiting on everybody and everyone - the rude guests, the cute-but-messy kids flinging spaghetti to the ceiling, the angry people who made me cry in the back next to the parmesan cheese, and the few guests who looked me in the eye as I asked them if they wanted butter and asked, "Caitlin, we are going to pray. What specifically can we pray for you about?"
All of these interactions were humbling - many times I was served and blessed by the people who sat at my tables. Regularly I had and continue to have my share of confessing to do to with my local Church as I struggle to love and sometimes forgive each representative of God's image who sat down at my table.
It's been quite the journey over this last year and a half. I have dear friends with several children as you do, and I see the immense struggle to serve their families. I see God's provision of grace in their lives, as I have seen in my own. Often it's a humbling grace - when the Spirit tells me that no, it's not okay to curse that man in return for his meanness or slander that angry woman as I cry or brood next to the Coke machine. Christ has conquered all in His death and resurrection. And he did it to restore all of His precious Creation. I have no right to feel entitled or offended - Christ has borne all this on the cross and inaugurated with his Resurrection an invitation to feast together at the banquet of the Kingdom of God.
Caitlin's experience draws out a profound truth, and it's a paradigm shift that turns my perspective upside down: Christ doesn't call us to serve for the sake of serving alone. Acts of service create a moment of communion in everyday life, a conduit for the Creator to become tangible to the created. In those moments of ministering to the least of these (for aren't all of us the least of all at some time or another?), we who are filled with the Spirit of the living God catch a glimpse of the face of the living God in those whom we are serving.
But this beautiful communion can never happen with our try harder and strive more, for our try harder and strive more will always and only ever lead to exhaustion. It is quite often the case that when all of our resources have been depleted that we are finally willing to surrender to the filling of the Spirit made possible by the Resurrection of Christ. That filling of the Spirit falls like rain in the desert, washing the grit from our eyes and allowing us to clearly see the image of God borne by the humanity that surrounds.
And then - oh, then! - the moment of service becomes a spark ignited when Rock meets rock and the warm flame of the Kingdom flares up, bringing Light and Life to our dark world.
* * * * *
Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes! -- 1 Peter 4:10-11 The Message