Friday, September 3, 2010

Serve Someone Friday

There arose an argument among them about which of them was the greatest. Jesus, perceiving the reasoning of their hearts, took a little child, and set him by his side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this little child in my name receives me. Whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For whoever is least among you all, this one will be great.
Luke 9:46-48

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."
Mark 9:33-37

On Sunday, I installed a motion sensor to control the light above the steps leading from my basement office to the first floor landing. My subsequent experience has been wonderfully satisfying. Previously, I would get up from my desk realizing that it had apparently gotten dark while I was working, fumble for the light-switch (typically with my elbow as my hands were occupied), and then eventually make my way up the steps (sometimes still in the dark.) However, tonight as I made my way up (and down) the stairs, as soon as I placed my foot on either the bottom or top step, the light blinked on.

I even tried to fool it, hesitating and then charging ahead. And you know what? It was always there for me, neither anticipating nor being distracted, but instead, simply being there with me and for me.

As I marched down the steps with my grill-heated, previously-frozen Amy's pizza, I was reminded of the above new testament verses. Anthropomorphically speaking, I considered the servant-nature of my little motion-sensing light switch and how even this inexpensive jumble of plastic, wires, lenses and filters seemed to surpass the capacity of most humans to abide by Jesus' words. Assuming that you actually get the first/last, least/greatest aspects of what Jesus taught, the thing that strikes me about my little technological wonder was how effectively it implements servanthood.

It's there for me exactly when I need it to be there for me. It doesn't turn on too early. It doesn't turn on too late. It doesn't stay on too long. It doesn't cut off mid-stairs. It doesn't ask me to recognize what a great servant it is or to show it appreciation. It's all about serving for serving's sake.

It's there for me.

Do for Whom?
So often when we do "for others", we actually do "for us". Technically speaking, it's impossible to do something for someone other than yourself. Each and every time you do something, regardless of who is involved, you do it for your own reasons and motivations. It may be the maintenance of yourself image, or creating the kind of world in which you'd prefer to live, or setting an example, or impressing those watching, or controlling your children, or knowing that you couldn't live with yourself were you to do something else, but the motivations always start with you.

Consider an elderly woman entering a fully occupied subway car. She looks here and there for a seat. Some of the seated actively ignore her becoming totally absorbed in the delivery of stimuli from their iPods, some look around hoping to see someone else taking action. At once, several people stand to offer her a seat. One is getting off at the next stop anyway. Another wants to impress his date.The third simply trying to silence the voice of his mom in his head instructing him on courtesy. Each of them does what he does for his own reasons.

However, despite our always being selfishly motivated to do for others, we vary greatly in how we do for others. Some of us tend towards self-orientation as we act and others towards other-orientation as we act. For example:
  • Two guys prepare a meal for friends, one prepares what he likes to eat or likes to prepare, the other prepares food preferred his friends.
  • Two parents purchase gifts for their children. One doesn't know much about or enjoy the activities that her child pursues and purchases something that she believes is good for the child. The other researches her child's interests (no matter how foreign or unappealing they may be) and finds a present that would please her child.
  • Two friends offer to help clean the house of a third friend. One believes the homeowner to be overly picky and therefore takes shortcuts when he's not looking. The other believes the homeowner to be overly picky, but nonetheless cleans in a manner that he knows the homeowner would approve.
  • Two teachers offer help after school. One goes by the book, repeating the same exercises until the student "gets it". The other observes closely how the student conducts the exercises, trying to discern where the breakdown in understanding is occurring, and then adjusts his method to the needs of the student.
In all the above cases, someone is doing something for someone else, but there's a marked difference in the attitude, experience and effect.

Indulge Me Indulging You
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis discusses the nature of humility and how we've screwed up our understanding thereof. Whereas most of us express humility by denying or minimizing our strengths, Lewis suggests that true humility is to view our strengths for what they are and to take delight in them as we would were they found in anyone else. For example, a great musician would not deny her greatness, but instead would appreciate her own work and the great work of others equally. A bright student would not try to downplay his brightness, but instead would appreciate it as he would any other bright individual.

In essence, the idea is to take the "me" out of it and simply appreciate the "what" of it.

I believe an analog to Lewis' descriptions of humility can be found in servanthood. When we serve someone, we can take delight in it as though we were ourselves being served. We can indulge in indulging others. We can make serving as great an experience (or even greater) than being served.

As we learn to enjoy serving and indulge in it, we become better at serving. We become more and more aware of the one served and less conscious of ourselves. We prepare the meals we know the served would enjoy. We actually learn what meals qualify. We become more aware of the nuances within the served's tastes. We don't just purchase hip-hop tracks for the child whose music we dislike, but instead we become familiar with the child's preferred artists and tracks. We become completely present with the people we're serving (neither anticipating nor being distracted) and we delight in it.

Serving becomes an indulgence.

(BTW, seeing serving as an indulgence can be quite useful for all you who find it difficult to let others serve you.)

Serve Someone Friday
So, in honor of indulgent servants everywhere and to the benefit of both the server and the served communities, I'm declaring today, Serve Someone Friday. It's a kind of Labor Day analog to Good Friday and Easter.

To celebrate Serve Someone Friday, all you need to do is pick one or more people for whom you want to do something and then, do it. However, potentially unlike other times that you've done things for people you're going to:
  1. Ensure that what you're doing is actually something that the person for whom you're doing it would want
  2. Do what they would want in the manner in which they would want it done
  3. Not think about rewards, recognition or even gratitude, but instead make your reward the delight of the person served
  4. Be completely present with serving neither distracted by other thoughts and activities nor anticipating getting done, but instead being in the moment
  5. Take delight in serving
Imagine if everyone served others in the manner above. What would change?

Happy Friday!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks! I'm officially adding this to the reading list for Team Jaedon!


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