“See how this bit of oat-grass is emptying itself out. Look at the wide-openness with which the seed-sheaths lose all that they have to yield, and then the patient content with which they fold their hands – the content of finished work. ‘She hath done what she could.’ Oh, the depth of rest that falls on the soul when the voice of the Beloved speaks those words! Will they be said to us?” Parables of the Cross
It was a Harvest Dinner. People from various walks of life broke bread together then stayed on for table fellowship. A single question was thrown out for discussion: Name one thing for which you are thankful.
The answers were varied and, for the most part, predictable. I kept crossing off my “choices” as people named them before my turn: family. . . health. . . freedom. . . faith. . . The comments circled the table and came to the last in line. “I’m thankful that I am able to still be of service to others.” A light shone from the eyes of a woman whom we recognized, even in our relatively short time in Mt. Dora, as a person who not only served but served with joy.
“I will gladly spend and be spent,” wrote Lilias in her Parables of the Cross – and proceeded to live out a lifetime of service. It is easy to look at someone like her as the exception. A called one. And yet, what is the point of life anyway if it does not include reaching out to others in love? Are we not all called to serve – in one way or another?
There are many responses to the idea of “service” from the hedonist who insists, “I must take care of myself'” to those who literally burn out in serving others neglecting their own basic needs. The challenge is personal and one that is in continual flux throughout the ages and stages of our lives. We (I) might aspire to the heights of Lilias’ standards but God never intended me to copy or clone another person’s life of faith or service. I might be inspired but I cannot imitate.
It has been, for me, an ongoing struggle to balance the most basic management of family, household, workplace, friendships – and on top of all that service. But I have, through the years, come to some understandings about service.
1. God never said a life of service would be easy. Realistically, to spend your time and energy in the service of God is to take time and energy from other things that we might wish to be doing.
2. A need does not constitute a calling. Henri Nouwen learned this lesson the hard way. Having taught at Notre Dame and Yale Divinity School, written many books and lectured throughout the world, he left the academic community to respond to the needs of the poor of Latin America. Through painful experience he came to realize that though the need was compelling and his spirit was willing he, in fact, was neither “called” nor particularly effective in that setting. His spiritual journey of soul-searching as he prayerfully considered his true God-given “vocation” is vulnerably recorded in his published diary Road to Daybreak. His experience illustrates a universal truth: We can’t do everything.
3. Just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. Service is a manner of living for the Christian as it was for Christ. A habit of being. The challenge is to discern what things we are to do – to choose between good and good – and when to do them. This requires that we first seek God’s direction through prayer, through listening to His voice and to our lives, and through the wisdom of godly counselors. It is often a matter of trial and error.
4. A helpful tool of discernment is to consider our “concentric circles of caring” working from the requisite relationships at the center of our lives and moving outward. During the demanding years of child rearing, for instance, family will be our greatest focus. As we tend the ongoing chores, they can become acts of service, even worship, sanctified by the spirit in which they are performed. And during those years we can find involvement in wider circles of caring in a more limited way.
5. Rest in God’s strength. Phillips Brook said, “God does not give tasks equal to our powers, but power equal to our tasks.” Translation: God does not expect us to do anything for which He will not make provision!
Grandmother Bricker took up residency with my family when she was 83 years old. She wanted to serve. She ironed our clothing. She assisted in meal preparation. She cleaned where and when permitted. And when she could no longer serve through working, she continued to serve through praying – for her children, her grandchildren, their friends. Her daily prayer for herself was simple: “Lord give me life till my work is done; and give me work till my life is done.”
“I will gladly spend and be spent.” It is a privilege to be able to serve. It is a privilege to serve. Oswald Chambers elaborates: “The only responsibility you have is to stay in living constant touch with God, and to see that you allow nothing to hinder your cooperation with Him . . . Wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work. . . You are not your own. You are His.”
“I will gladly spend and be spent for your souls. . .”
1 1 Corinthians 12:15 (NKJV)