From the Fetal Position: My Thoughts on Serving
This is hard. The timing is terrible. I was asked to provide some thoughts on service. The last thing I want to write about at this moment or engage in, for that matter, is service. Recently, a couple of experiences have me shrinking from serving. Caring for someone in prolonged crisis only to get reamed, judged, and taken advantage of. Reaching out again and again to another friend who appears to be spiraling out of control only to be told I’m just like all her other “so-called friends.”
There are times when serving sucks. No atta-boys. Your efforts are walked on, your motives attacked. Your intentions are spit on. And this is a problem—not serving but the four frustrations I just mentioned. They’re all about me; more about that shortly.
Serving may sometimes suck the life out of us because serving as Jesus did and taught is always cruciform.
Cruciform: in the shape of a cross. My ego hates crosses, especially when I feel like someone just hanged me on one of theirs. I want my efforts to be appreciated; I want my service to be acknowledged. That’s the antithesis of cruciform service.
I’m a slow learner; it’s dawning on me that crosses are uncomfortable. I’m still learning that we serve because there is a need to be met and simply because we love someone, regardless of their response or the outcome.
I’m still learning that an act or life of service is more about my conversion than anyone else’s. Someone’s mistreatment of me may or may not be an indicator of their fallenness or depravity, but my ranting and raging about how they treated me is a telling sign that I am in need of further conversion.
I’m still learning that hurt people hurt people. Richard Rohr states it a little more elegantly when he says, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” It’s a given, and yet why am I still shocked when I’m on the receiving end? To the degree we befriend and interact with and serve people who continue to transmit their pain, we will incur their pain and accompanying venom. As Steve Winwood sang, “You gotta roll with it, baby!” I loved the song; I’m much less fond of the roll-with-it life of service.
And I’m still learning this: cruciform service is often a crucible. A crucible is a ceramic or metal container in which substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. Impurities are eradicated and a pure, undiluted substance results. When we serve in a cruciform manner, i. e. in a cross-shaped way, we feel the heat. Much is purged, particularly the all-about-me-ego. “Crucible” also serves as a metaphor; “a situation of severe trial or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new” (Google’s definition, so it has to be true).
The creation of something new. If I yield to, rather than reject or flee, the high-intensity heat process and continue to serve, I carry the hope that it is leading to the creation of something new.
Something new — like my conversion.
Steve Harris is a retired but no longer burnt-out therapist, and a very part-time painter (think roller, not brush.) He co-leads Imago teams to serve in Honduras and weekly serves on our Imago team to provide breakfast to our homeless population. Even though years ago he ran out of new puns and one-liners about eggs and sausage that does not deter him from the repetition. He still wears cargo shorts in spite of what others think. Maybe because of. His wife suffers migraines due to 42 years of eye rolls.