You can almost say that I couldn’t help having it!
Before I was born, my grandparents built me a legacy of serving others. As a child, my parents involved me in their acts of service. And as the eldest of eight children, I was practicing the spiritual gift of service for years before I realized what it was. But when I was about sixteen, my uncle was taken seriously ill — and my aunt called on me to help care for her two youngest children. Suddenly, I realized: it doesn’t matter that I’m not an adult, I have something to contribute!
Into all the usual insecurities of a shy teenager, God interjected the gift of my own personal passion for helping, using it to weave me into my family, my church family, a wider circle of friends, and into His plan for my life. Little did I know that as I was caring for baby brothers, tutoring younger sisters, cooking for my family, and writing letters to far-off friends, He was planting the seeds of skills I was yet to learn. These things that would make me a richer, happier, deeper, more useful woman.
If “the glory of God is man fully alive,” well, He is the one who woke me up to the deep sense of life and fulfillment I experience when I meet the needs of others. It is an amazing and humbling thing to know that you can be the answer to a person’s prayer for help, whether it’s a busy homeschooling mom or the worn-out adult children of an elderly person. Or a heartbroken single girl who needs to read an encouraging word, a struggling young writer who is just learning English, and an author who has spent twenty years dreaming up and writing up a book, and needs someone to polish it for him.
I never meant to write, but it just grew. Right out of the letter-writing of my teens, and the life-changing travel of my twenties. I never meant to edit or tutor, but they just came knocking on my door during college. College: now that was a frustrating season of life for a chronic help-er. How I hated to say no to my friends’ requests, just because I was working on a paper or studying for an exam. I wanted to feel that somebody was happier because I’d gotten up that morning, not spend my time in pursuits that didn’t seem to be helping anybody. Little did I know that God was growing me into new ways of helping.
And there are so very many! As well as care-taking, writing, editing, and tutoring, I can see that this passion for service fuels much of my delight in cooking and hospitality, in photography, and in listening, praying, counseling, and being there for friends both old and new.
There has been so much to learn about this passion — it is a gift. It has been instrumental in rescuing me from crippling self-consciousness, and from occasional bouts of depression. But it was given, not only for my own joy and sense of purpose, but to be shared. In that sense, it is not my gift, but yours. It is a delightful part of God’s economy that when my passion meets your deep need, neither of us can figure out who is more blessed — and He gets exponentially-multiplied praise! It is also God’s gift. I can’t be so taken up with my own work that I fail to be impressed with what He’s doing through others. The point is to give glory to Him!
And it is nothing but a gift. I can tell you from experience that serving out of my own strength just doesn’t work. I over-commit. I run out of energy and enthusiasm. And sometimes I even grow resentful of those I set out to help. I must serve God, not needs. I must let Him assign the tasks. I must tap into His supply of willingness and gumption and ingenuity, because mine is pitifully small.
And sometimes He makes me weak, so I can serve more strongly. Take, for instance, my unfulfilled desire for a spouse. When I am weak, He makes others strong, as I share the comfort He has given.
My culture tells me I need to invest in important people, in prestige, in titles, in dollars, in physical things. Even my heart tells me I need visible results: something I can look back on and say, “I did some good.” Seeing the Ah, that’s better on the face of a person I’ve helped, hearing thanks because I’ve met some need: these things help keep me going. But when I don’t get praise, and I don’t see results — what then?
I need God’s sense of purpose. Jesus says, “Lay up your treasure in heaven.” (That’s an invisible storehouse). “If you want to be great, serve.” (That’s an unnoticed occupation). “Whatever you did to the least of My brothers, you did to Me.” (Those are insignificant people and an unseen Friend).
In His economy, washing dishes and writing articles are of equal value. The glamor and beauty is not in my work, but in Who is working through me. So if noticing the unnoticed and comforting the uncomforted (no matter how hidden what I do) is investing in living, breathing, God-created masterpieces, and delighting Jesus’ heart — well, I can’t think of a better way to live.