We all know, I suppose, what the term means. We've heard it, we've said it, we've promoted it, we've done it, and we have decided not to do it.
Depending on where you find yourself in your life, it's either a term that evokes excitement, dread, ambivalence, or something in between.
I'll be honest, serving isn't one of my love languages. I have friends who find great fulfillment in serving others. I'm not one of them. It generally just makes me feel tired.
But, recently, the Lord and I have been revisiting the word, and the subject it refers to, and I will tell you that my heart is undergoing a revolution.
Let me back up a tiny bit, and explain what has sparked all that is going on inside me.
My family is full of missionaries. As far back as Hudson Taylor, who makes an appearance in our ancestral tree, members of my clan have gone across oceans and continents and countries and cities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people who might never hear otherwise.
My husband and I met on a mission trip to China 19 years ago.
My 14-year-old daughter has the missionary heart beating inside her.
My sister, Joy, is my favorite missionary of all time.
Even as I type this, my parents and my sister, Sarah, are serving in Bangladesh as short term missionaries to the Muslim people there.
I wanted to go with them on that trip. I wanted it badly. But...life is full of things we want but don't receive. So I remained behind, to pray for them, and to fill in the gaps for them while they are away as much as I can.
And it feels like the "serving" that the Lord is asking of me right now is more exhausting than I can handle. Because I'm sad, and when I'm sad and hurting, everything becomes too much.
Do you know what I mean?
Of course you do.
We've all said it, or at the very least felt it.
"I have way too much going on in my life right now. I can't add one more thing."
We can't take that meal, or watch those kids on Sunday morning, or clean up that house for someone, or sit and listen to a person share their pain, or stop and pray for the person that's been on our minds.
And, at the risk of stepping on my own toes, I will say that I'm much more likely to listen to some one's pain, or pray for the person on my heart, than I am to do the PHYSICAL things serving sometimes requires.
It's impossible to feel like volunteering in the kids ministry at church when you are overwhelmed by your week, month, year, LIFE, and all you want to do is hear worship music and a sermon, and then go home.
It's ridiculous to add making a meal for a sick or hurting family to your schedule when you can't afford it, or when it means you'll end up feeding your own family drive-through.
Cleaning a house that isn't your own when you can't remember the last time a toilet brush graced your bathroom...that is simply out of the question.
I totally get it. I resonate. We all do. Serving is hard. For some more than others, but it's HARD for all of us.
This tangent I've been on in my spirit started when I hugged my family goodbye last week, sending them off to do missions work that I really wanted to be a part of with them.
My parents go on lots of trips. I always miss them, and I always cry when I hug them, but I've gotten used to sending them. THIS time, though, I was sending my sister, Sarah, too.
And I was not prepared for the feelings that would dredge up inside me.
The last time I sent a sister on a missions trip, I hugged her, and I told her I loved her, and to be safe, and to call and write and come back soon...and she died.
And so as I hugged my sister and told her all the same things, terror rose up inside me.
And after they drove away, I climbed into my car and proceeded to have a full-blown panic attack, witnessed by members of my church who were there for the send off as well. (Not my finest moment. Even sharing it is a lesson in humility for me.)
The whole way home, I kept saying to the Lord, "It's enough, Lord. I've sent enough of my family to do Your work. Stop asking this of me. It's enough. My heart can't take anymore."
Wow. If that isn't a peek into how selfish a heart can be, I don't know what is.
And the Lord was kind to me. His presence enveloped me, and my heart calmed, and the panic subsided a bit, to be a bearable, swallow-able feeling.
And days passed. And even though I wasn't voicing my specific dissatisfaction with His ways, I was still feeling it.
My family and friends across the globe posted pictures one day, of the work they had been doing...and my heart couldn't hold the ugly in anymore.
"It's enough, Lord. I can't give anymore of my people to you. I won't survive it."
And He responded to me. "Haven't I given everything for you? So that you could come into my presence? So that you have access to my throne? My Spirit is with you now, in your sadness, because I gave My life for your redemption. Is anything I ask of you more than that?"
And I wept.
Because doesn't our pain often, always, feel like its more unbearable than ANY pain that has ever been? Don't we feel overwhelmed to the point of breaking down by all the weight on our shoulders?
Didn't the God of all creation feel that same weight? Didn't His Son sweat drops of blood because of the agony He knew was upon Him?
When Jesus knew He was walking to His death, preceded by scourging and nails, and followed by a trip into HELL, He still stopped to heal the ear of one of His adversaries.
When God watched His own Son breathe His last breath, His heart was so broken that the sky went dark. But He didn't stop serving us. His pain, His burden, was great, and yet, He reached down and RIPPED THE TEMPLE VEIL in half, for me, for you, for us all. He served, even in His agony.
So that we could bring our gripes and complaints and hurts and fears and all the rest to Him.
And does He tell us not to come to Him with our burdens and needs and requests because He has more on His plate than He can possibly handle?
Of. Course. Not.
He pulls us onto His lap, and He soothes our hearts.
And (here's the toe stepping about to happen again) often times, we stay there, and we rest in His peace, and we drink in His presence...and that's it.
But, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that is NOT what He is asking of us. That's NOT why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit.
YES, He is the Comforter. But He's also love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and all the rest. And we aren't supposed to horde that. We are supposed to share it.
We should be FUNNELS for His presence.
Even, maybe especially, when we are hurting ourselves.
Could it be that nothing will soothe our burdens as much as helping to soothe the burdens of others?
Could the scandal of grace be that it isn't meant for you to only receive, it's meant for you to spread?
Why would we ever assume that the Lord Jesus, who said "If any of you want to be my disciple, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24) would find it acceptable to merely be a recipient of His servant-hood, rather than a giver of it?
I know, this isn't popular, or compassionate, or particularly gentle. But I'm talking to myself too. The Lord has been saying it to me. Am I willing to give Him everything? Am I willing to serve Him, and His hurting ones, even when I am in pain myself?
Truth? If serving Him means giving up another person I love...I don't know if I can do it or not. I don't know. I can't think about that without panic and pain.
But I do know a woman who serves out of her own pain, and I have seen the beauty of it.
This is my mom. She's in Bangladesh right now. My sister, Joy, served there when she was alive. She was on her way back there when she died.
That's one of Joy's scarves that my mom is wearing.
And she's planting flowers in the "Joyful Garden" outside the school, for the children there to tend to.
I can see her sadness, because she's my mom. I know it's hard for her to be there. It causes her pain to serve.
But. She's still doing it.
Are we turning from our selfishness, and following after the example of the Son of God?
If not...shame on us.
Our serving here is much less grandiose. It's toilets and meals and kids ministry. But it's serving.
We have been COMMANDED to serve each other.
Not when it feels good. Not out of our surplus.
We are to serve, even in our pain, even when we're burdened, even when its uncomfortable and inconvenient and much more than we can possibly handle.
Because Jesus did. And because our all-knowing Father KNOWS that being His servant is better for US than simply receiving from Him.
Are you tired? Burdened? Hurting? Overwhelmed? Paralyzed with fear? Complacent? Angry? Comfortable? Guilty? Ashamed?
The throne room of God is available to you. And me. And everyone.
But don't just go in and get what you need from Him, and then walk out again.
Let's be His disciples. Let's serve each other, even when we don't want to.
"Father, if it is possible, let this cup of suffering pass from me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not mine." Matthew 26:39