The surest way to love someone is to serve them. This is an idea that I have been living with for many years, but I received a much needed reminder this week about the powerful force that is unleashed by giving service. Think about the last time that you served someone, served him or her with an open heart because you knew they were in need and you were ready to help. Now examine your feelings for that person. I would imagine that, regardless of the relationship, there is an underlying tenderness that is distinct from most feelings of friendship or regard.
A couple of years ago I led a church-based tutoring group that met once a week to help elementary school children from the Hispanic community with their homework. I had no affiliation with these kids, other than spending one hour a week reading, going over math or science problems*, and helping review upcoming homework assignments with their parents. I have not seen a single one of those children in three years and I don’t remember any of their names. And yet, my heart softens when I think of the times that one particular little girl would come to me with her scissors and glue and prepare to complete her project with more energy than I could ever muster on a weeknight. Because of the service that I rendered, I developed a love for her that will always remain.
The photograph above is from two of my cousins who went on a service trip to a school in Thailand with Youthlinc. Still in high school, these two girls left their comfortable homes, beds, cars, cell phones, cable tvs, hot showers and every friend to go to help these young students. Two years later, their hearts are still full. Their eyes light up as they name a child from the school. They would go back in a second and they will remember these children forever.
Time and again I have entered a service opportunity reluctantly. It is never a convenient time, and I always have a mile long list of other things I would rather be doing. But without fail, by the end of the event I can’t help but smile. My burdens are lighter, my goals are loftier, and my spirit is renewed for another round with the toils of the world.
So here is the other side of the equation. We feel inclined to give service, and the natural side effect is love. But what if we need to love someone? What about that person who always manages to find your last nerve and then do backflips on it? What about the obnoxious neighbor who talks too loud, or the coworker who is always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time? I challenge you to take that person and find a way to provide service to him or her. Wash your neighbor’s car. Bake your coworker some cookies. Just see what happens, you might be surprised.
*I saw one homework problem, I’m not kidding, of designing a new impact-resistant bumper for a car. Selecting the materials, drawing the schematics, writing a work order. This was for a sixth grader! I didn’t provide much help on the homework, but I was the most enthusiastic supporter in the room.