2011/365/009: In Service

I’ve spent most of these first nine days in 2011 pondering service–primarily our service to others and our desire to be “in service” so that we are available when needed, when called upon. This could mean everything from being in service for our family and friends, to providing service to a larger community: a church, a school, even a sports team or organization.

Then there’s the more personal side of service: our service to God (I will use “God” as a general term to refer to whatever “Great Creator,” as Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way), you may look up to.

Not only have I been pondering how this fits in with our hectic lifestyles, I’ve been thinking a lot about our pretentiousness regarding our service to others, even if it is entirely unintentional and not directed at any one person or group.

First, being In Service in a hectic life. I think that it’s important to teach younger generations that we don’t have to do it all, to participate in every little thing that comes our way, or to jump on every fad or trend that seems so enticing and delightful. These temptations will cross our paths throughout our lives, and learning to make critical choices while we are still young and then when we are in our teens and 20’s will undoubtedly give us greater strength when we feel lured to do “just one more thing” in our later years. It’s not important how many things we do; it’s important how well we do the things we choose to do. Scheduling personal time to enjoy the simpler side of life (unplugged, in solitude or with friends, at home or outdoors) is just as important as the sports teams we manage or the dedication we might have toward our particular job. Striking a good balance between our service to others and to ourselves is critical for a healthy lifestyle.

Second, our (un)intentional pretentiousness. Maybe some of my readers can help me with this one, but it is my understanding that this “I need to be better than you” mentality is primarily western in origin. Eastern thought leans toward the “triple truth” that we need to live life with a generous heart, kind speech toward others, and unconditional service and compassion. Nowhere in that triple truth do I see a cut-throat way of living that promotes pretentiousness, condescension, or judgment.

Last night, I spent several hours at my daughter’s gym to set up for a big meet that’s being held today (she’s been a gymnast there for 12 years now, and I’ve come to know many of the parents well, somewhat, and not at all–admittedly by choice). One of the parents that I have not spent too much time with was unloading the trunk of his car when we arrived. I held the door for him as he carried a large, white wooden structure into the gym. I looked in the trunk and saw more pieces of wood, all painted white, that obviously went with the piece he was carrying.

Now, if I knew him better (i.e., if I had elevated his importance in my life to “friend” status), I wouldn’t have hesitated in carrying the other pieces of wood into the gym for him. Instead, I walked through the door and proceeded into the main competition area, where other parents were gathering (hey–I held the door for him. That was something, right?). For the next hour, I stood dutifully by, waiting to be told where to move that beam or those mats. It was hectic, and most of us didn’t know the rules of the competition (how far one beam could be from another, where the judges had to sit, etc.).

While waiting for my next assignment, I got a tap on my shoulder.

“Can you help me for a moment?”

I turned around and saw the same parent who was unloading his car when we arrived. I followed him over to the corner of the gym, where he had all of the pieces of white wood laid out on the gym floor. This was a trophy cart that he had built just for our gym, and as we assembled it piece by piece, I was surprised with how beautiful it was and how precise his attention was to the smallest of details.

While helping him put it together, all I wanted to do was serve and help–not just for my own selfish purpose, but because I had realized that, unknowingly, I had “ranked” this individual as somebody that I didn’t want to get to know better. I had made a choice years ago, for some reason, that I was better than him and that I didn’t have time to get to know him a little better (I absolutely cannot believe that I just wrote that, but it is a truth that I am realizing). I just feel like it’s ingrained in me to look at people and make those judgments.

As the two of us worked together on assembling the cart, I asked him many questions–not to evaluate or to judge; rather, I asked those questions because he is a human being, just like me, and any posturing or status positioning that I might do above that common fact is wrong.

I know many of my friends out there are already living in such a selfless, unpretentious way. But I also know that many of us think we are, but we’re really not. I think that many of us perform service thinking that we are good because we are helping others that we consider “in greater need” or less fortunate. These status divisions, though, are becoming clearer to me. A life of service should not be deemed better or worse based on our judgments and rankings of individuals or groups; a life of service toward humanity should be our only goal.

Keep it simple, focus your energy, and provide service and compassion unconditionally.

Absolutely life-changing.

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