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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Are You Being Served?

Are You Being Served?

If you’re at all into British comedy, the title probably makes you smile, or even chuckle.
“Are you being served?”
It’s so British and polite. To American ears, it sounds very foreign. Maybe even a little prickly. Self-sufficient people serve. They don’t seek to be served.

Self-sufficiency was a high virtue in my upbringing. I was the only girl in a family of boys, and there are many very good things about that. I learned how to do STUFF. Real stuff. Life stuff. I was never treated differently than the boys when it came to being able to handle tasks—physical or mental. Even though I was much smaller and did not have the brute strength they were biologically equipped with, so there were limitations, I learned and put into practice those kinds of basic skills that today I’m thankful for: how to change out an electrical outlet or a washer in an old faucet, how to find a ceiling joist or wall stud for hanging things. I once removed, repaired, and reseated a toilet. I keep my finances in good order and budget well, thanks to my dad’s teaching. Both my parents promoted education and worked and saved well to make sure each of us was given access to both formal education and an environment in which exploring thoughts, philosophies, and applications could be tested.

There is much good in all of that and I would not change my history in that regard. But my own pride enters the scene and turns self-sufficiency into a kind of god that isn’t healthy, and isn’t good, and isn’t even true. It turns the idea of service into something one-directional—all outward from me because of my particular arena of ability. It turns me into a type of god too, and believe me, ain’t no one of us wants that.

A couple of things have converged in this last month to show me how my true God is shaking up my thinking and moving me out of my personal preferences and comfort zones. In it all is the idea of service. Whose service? And what does it look like?

A few years ago, I read a book called Kingdom Calling in a class at Covenant Theological Seminary. A verse used in that book really stuck with me. It’s from Proverbs 11:10, and it says, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” (NIV) I read that verse and heard personal responsibility in it. “What does it mean to love my city?” I asked my friend Nat recently, while sitting outdoors in the sun on the stone steps of the building where his church meets. In the back of my mind was this verse, and the question, “Does the way God has blessed me bring joy to my city?” He had some ideas. Because his life is different from mine, his ideas were unique to him, but still worthwhile for me to listen to, consider how to turn them in the light of my own life and find a similar gleam as a new facet is exposed.

Ever since that class, I have applied that verse in one simple way as consistently as I can. When I am in a public setting being served by someone else’s labor—as in a restaurant, a coffee house, a bar, a hotel, at the hairstylist, etc.—I seek to reward the laborer for his or her service with a greater financial return than he or she would expect on average. If I have been so financially prospered as to be able to afford the service I am receiving, I want to bring joy to my server by rewarding him or her more graciously than the minimum required.

I’ve just come off the travel circuit for work. When I travel, I am away from my lovely daughters (with one exception: This year, I was able to take my oldest with me on one trip that overlapped with her spring break; it was a tremendous blessing to have her with me.). I am away from the familiarity of my own home. I am away from the friends I might call or text if the loneliness is heavy, or sadness sets in, or something wonderful and worth sharing occurs. But still, while I travel, I want to represent at least adequately (I would like to say “very well” but I know my failings) the identity I have of being redeemed and indwelt by the life-giving God who owns everything in the universe and generously pours out on us abundantly more than we ever even would have thought to ask for on our own. And so, I pray that the financial gift I leave in the room for my housekeeper blesses her, brings joy to she who is employed to keep things tidy and necessities available during my occupancy.

Do you see what I’m doing there, though? Do you see my one-way directional approach to service? It is true that I am benefiting from her service, but that’s not really where my thoughts are. My thoughts are “I have; she does not have,” and so in a way, I am wanting to be giving, like God, to her. Again, not a bad thing. But this season, God shone a light onto this in a different way that exposed my own poverty and reason for rejoicing that I was not seeing. He turned the gem of service to expose another facet—and this one shone on me.

This year, in Atlanta, I had a very young, petite, lovely Hispanic woman assigned to my room for the days I was there. She was friendly and soft-spoken and over time, I saw, very tender of heart. I wanted to bring her joy, and so, assuming I was well-placed to do so, I determined to leave her financial tips to bless her life. But at the end of my trip, she revealed something to me: She saw ME as her mission field, and what she saw was absolutely true.

She saw women traveling for business as her particular calling to bring joy to. She was aware that at the end of my long work day, I would come back to a lonely, quiet, empty, dark room, far from the family that fills my life on other days. She knew that often, I would eat my meals alone without conversation. That I would go to sleep alone without an evening conversation. That I would wake up alone with no one to greet me, and no one to greet. And because she would go home that evening after a long work day to be greeted by a boisterous and very present extended family, she felt pain for me in my days there. So she determined that in everything she could do, she would make my stay as welcoming and friendly and LOVING as she could—to bring me what joy she could. It meant greeting me with eye contact and warmth. It meant knowing how many days I was “with her,” and that’s how she said it, “I have you until Saturday, no?” It meant leaving one lamp on in the room, which costs the hotel energy yes, but meant that when I arrived back there, after dark, I, as a single woman, did not have to enter a dark room alone. I came in to the warmth of a light left on for me by someone who made it her responsibility to care. When I saw the lamp, I knew she had been there and she had thought of me, crossing the threshold, and she wanted me to feel welcomed and loved and not so alone.

When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices, and I was being served by her in a way that was far more than practical and pragmatic. It was deeply personal and relational, and it was what she could do, and what she did do. I gave her a financial gift, but she gave me a relational one.

Today, I got to chat only briefly with my new friend Jordan. He is a gift straight from heaven. Streams of cool water. We talked a little about the difficulty I have, in my pride, of being served—of asking for help. A very large part of it comes from my culture, that determination that self-sufficiency is to be prized as greatly as it is. Another large part comes from shame: Had I been stronger and bolder and more willing to truly BE righteous even when it looked unconventional, I might not have the depth of need that I do have today. I let too much go on too long, and in that regard, I made my own bed and now, that voice of the enemy who has no respect for grace and none of it to offer, says, “So sleep in it.” Part of it is the belief that I should serve, not be served, because of some status I’d like to think I possess, but truly, honestly, do not. Another part is the belief that I am a burden, and I don’t want to be a burden. I want to be a helper.

So I told Jordan that I knew there was pride in there, and that God had been showing me, slowly, gradually, that though I am to reflect and image him to others, I am not him, and I will not actually be him to other people. That I am just as needy in all the ways others are. That I need to let him work through others to me, if that’s how he chooses. And Jordan so gently, graciously agreed. Then he went on his way. But as he was working on a task this afternoon, his mind was going back over our conversation and he was talking to our mutual Savior about it, and he was prompted to call me and continue the discussion a bit with this encouragement that I so needed to hear.

Despite his youth, Jordan knows the scripture, and listening to him cross-reference and pull from memory, and cite verses while he builds his argument is a beautiful thing to experience. It’s possibly even more beautiful when he directs it at YOU for YOUR GOOD, and he’s spot on. He told me that I was missing something. He said a lot, and it went pretty much like this, “Christ is in you. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.’ This is how Jesus works. He puts a hungry child in your path. Do you feed him, or look away? A wounded person. Do you help, or cross over to the other side? A widow and orphans. Do you visit, or engage somewhere else? What’s the evidence of pure religion? ‘I was hungry and you fed me.’ Jesus doesn’t say, ‘A child was hungry and you fed him,’ he says, ‘I was, and you fed ME.’ Rebecca, Jesus is in you. You know that. You wouldn’t deny that. It’s a fact. For you to say, ‘I have a need,’ is an opportunity for us to serve Jesus, while helping you. And that’s what we’re here for—to serve him. And where is he? In you.”

There’s not one word of what Jordan said that I would try to contradict and feel honest doing so, but I really never grasped it that way—that service to me is service to Jesus because Jesus is in me. So why is it still so hard to be served? Jordan wants to serve his Jesus with his life—with the work of his hands, with the love of his heart, with the words of his mouth, with the presence of his friendship. How does Jesus ask us to do that? By serving those he puts in our paths—all of us, strangers, siblings, acquaintances—the whole of community that we make up.

Who are the poor in spirit? Jordan challenged me to consider. Well, that would be me, Lord. Had I never known my poverty of spirit I could never have known he who paid for me and gave me his Spirit. “It’s a two-way street,” Jordan reminded me. Jesus—whom we serve—did not come to be served but to serve, and to offer himself as a ransom for many. He came to serve—it’s outward from him. He receives our service—it’s back toward him. He receives our service—back toward him—when we BOTH serve others (who have Christ in them, and those who don’t yet but are still bearing his image and have need) AND when we allow others to serve us—who have Christ in us.

So, it’s not just about me. Once again—It’s not just about ME.

Oh, when will I ever get this right? When does the peeling ever become complete? I have service to give, and I have need, both at the same time, and he is in it all.

What about you?

Are you being served?