This past week I received letters from some friends of mine. Mind you, handwritten and sent in the mail; stamps and all. Not a lot of people send letters anymore because there’s email, and texting and a thousand apps that make communication almost instantaneous. So to get a handwritten letter? That says that I was worth the time to sit and write to, and the 45 cents it cost to mail it 🙂
Switching gears very abruptly, I want to jump to the dictionary for a brief second.
Definition of service
1a: the occupation or function of serving<in active service>b: employment as a servant<entered his service>
2a: the work performed by one that serves<good service>b:help, use, benefit<glad to be of service>c: contribution to the welfare of othersd: disposal for use <I’m entirely at your service>
3a: a form followed in worship or in a religious ceremony <the burial service>b: a meeting for worship —often used in plural <held evening services>
4: the act of serving: as a: a helpful act <did him a service>b: useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity —usually used in plural<charge for professional services>
Service is defined in Websters Dictionary as a noun. Service is also defined as an occupation; think serving in the military, or working as a server in a restaurant. However, service exacts action on behalf of others. Not self. There is nothing in the definition of service in the dictionary that involves self.
So when we look at what a year of service means, particularly from a Christian service standpoint, we are viewing a year full of giving to others. In DOOR, that looks something like working in an agency, being involved in the community, participation in a church family, choosing to live simply, and living in an intentional community. All of this is packaged up with love as the focal point.
But here is what I wish I knew before I started:
What am I supposed to do when the people I love and serve, want to love me back?
When I came here to Hollywood, I was prepared to give of myself as much as I needed to this year. I was prepared to be a sacrifice to the greater good, and to wear myself out serving if need be; if God wanted. BUT. I was NOT prepared for the overwhelming amount of love that I’ve received in return. And frankly, I was very uncomfortable. My conversations with God went something like this:
ME: Ok, God. Um, so you understand what this year is about right? It means that I’M supposed to be doing the giving. I’m supposed to be the one denying myself, on behalf of YOU, mind you, and spending this year doing that.
ME: Ok. Let me phrase that a little differently. I’m not supposed to be getting so much in return! We are supposed to serve without expecting anything in return and that is being thwarted by all these people in LA who’ve decided (probably together in some meeting) to compete with the amount of service I give.
ME: I don’t understand God! I really don’t. Every time I give, I get something back. Is that really what’s supposed to happen? Because I’ve never had this happen to me before. I’m not trying to be selfish; I promise. They just keep giving.
GOD: *sighs* You know, sometimes you are really less intelligent than I made you to be.
ME: ……..Oh. Oh wait. There’s a double standard here isn’t there?
GOD: Yes. Yes there is.
And I finally realized that I am being selfish. I had some weird complex in my mind that made me think I was the only one who could serve and love. I thought that service meant being a one way street; always giving and never receiving in order for my “service” to be pure. And I’m really not sure where this twisted idea came from. Because that is NOT AT ALL what God says in the Bible about love and service. In fact, it’s the opposite. I feel very strongly that there are few things God loves more than to see his people loving and serving each other mutually, and together. When I serve out of the love in my heart and my love for God, why shouldn’t I be loved in return? That’s what relationships are; serving and loving each other. Giving, but also receiving. I know how hurt I feel when I want to do something for someone, and they turn me away. Or if I want to give them a gift, and they refuse it. But yet all along, I’ve been doing the same thing. Am I trying to love and serve? Or am I trying to be a martyr?
I’ve been afraid of what it means to be loved and served by others; to be vulnerable, to be humbled by others who want to give to me. Why wasn’t I prepared for this? Why wasn’t I prepared for the magnitude of love that would be shown to me? And in some ways the struggle I’m experiencing now is an uncomfortable second experience with the struggle I’ve had in my own faith journey: to let God really love me.
I’m really, really good at the service part. And I have a lot of love in my heart to pour out on others. But being loved in return? I’m bad at that. Make sure the return address is in the top corner because it might be sent back unopened.
After almost 6 months here I am still struggling. I still have to fight my pride every time my coworkers tell me they are buying me lunch. I’m worried at the end of the day as to why I feel so fulfilled after a long day of hard work. I have to swallow back concern when family and friends mail me care packages, thinking, this is too much. I’m being given too much.
But today a client gave me a bouquet of flowers. He called me over and held out a big bouquet and asked me to take them. I said no right away; a knee jerk reaction. But he was insistent and every time I said, “Oh, no, thank you but I can’t take them,” his face fell a little. My coworker told me that it was my decision whether or not I accepted them, so I took that as a sign that it wouldn’t be inappropriate to accept the gift. I was the problem. Not him. Not the flowers. Me. Who am I to decide that a friend experiencing homelessness can’t give me flowers? And when I couldn’t stand the disappointment on his face any longer, I swallowed my pride and took the flowers and I thanked him and I smiled. He just wanted to thank me, and to show his appreciation by giving me something in return. How much more prideful could I be, by deciding whether someone can give me a gift or not? What were my actions saying to him?
And so I think it’s long past time for me to learn how to let myself be loved. To humble myself in the right way, and to admit that I don’t always need to do things on my own. I was going to serve this year for nothing in return and I thought I could do it. But turns out, I can’t. Because I’ve been drowning in all of the love that I’ve been shown here and though I’ve tried, it’s not something I can seem to hide from or avoid. So maybe it’s time to stop treading water, and to just let the waves carrying me where God wills.
This has been a hard lesson. And I’m still learning. And I’m still struggling. And I have a lot more to process than can fit in one blog post.
So as I challenge myself to learn how to let myself be loved, I challenge those of you who might be wrestling with this as well to do the same. Let God love you. Let others love you. Serve out of the love in your heart every day, and watch how God blesses your life beyond what you think you could ever deserve.
❤ ❤ ❤