In the musical Wicked, the popular Galinda gives a makeover to her nerdy, offbeat roommate. Galinda presents herself as the fortunate, intelligent friend who, out of the kindness of her heart, deigns to help the less fortunate, the less informed, the lesser.
I laugh at Galinda’s presumptuous vanity. But when I minister to others, sometimes I unwittingly adopt that very attitude.
It’s easy to simplify my interactions, imagining myself as an angelic messenger bringing light into the darkness. I have to remind myself that, in God’s eyes, I am a beggar sharing with another beggar. And perhaps that other beggar has something important to share with me as well.
Those I serve owe me nothing, yet they often bless me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. God provides opportunities to receive His blessing through others in both formal and informal ministries. By recognizing that those I serve are my equals, I allow God’s love to flow freely.When I serve someone else, I am a beggar sharing with another beggar. And perhaps that other beggar has something important to share with me as well. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Being Served During Informal Ministry
Sometimes the Holy Spirit nudges me to say an encouraging word, lend a hand, or give a gift to someone in my community, such as a grocery store queue acquaintance or a member of my small group.
With friends, it’s easy to see how giving and receiving often come full circle, and it’s easy to feel like we are all equals. But I have difficulty when I am called to serve someone whose circumstance is far outside my own experience, such as someone panhandling on a street corner. I can get stuck in “Galinda mode,” feeding my pride with each act of service.
I Am Poor Like All the Poor
A few years ago at a sandwich shop, an older gentleman with frizzled grey hair and smelly clothes asked me for change. I bought him lunch. While we ate outside the sandwich shop, a tall bald man marched up to us and offered to pray with us. My lunchtime companion shrugged, then asked the street missionary to pray for his estranged children and for recovery from an addiction.
They turned to me, and I asked them to pray for a loved one who was sick. We stood and held hands, a triangle of people with very different lives, and prayed for each other, asking God to bless each situation and each heart.
While I often find myself with a surplus of material blessings to share, I need grace and prayer as much as anyone else. Now, I try to keep my heart open when I serve in a spontaneous informal capacity.
Being Served During Formal Ministry
In formal ministry, I may represent a parish or diocese, a medical facility, or a professional organization. Strictly defined roles, structured encounters, and behavioral boundaries are important. To protect the ones I serve, I must follow the rules and principles established in Safe Environment training (or its equivalent within the professional entity). It is unethical to accept expensive gifts, elaborate favors, or emotional support from a ministry participant, patient, client, or professional contact.
Even so, there are appropriate ways to receive God’s blessings through those I serve. They inspire me, challenge me, and share their wonderful personalities with me.
As a Speech Therapist, I often see patients and families in vulnerable moments. They are navigating life with a disability in a world that doesn’t make it easy. Their perseverance motivates me to get through tough days; I am challenged to grow in patience, charity, and self-love.
In this regard, there is little I can offer my patients. I can only receive their wisdom and draw strength from their example.
Often, my patients do small but extraordinary things to make me smile. During feeding therapy, my patients have offered me slimy bites of strange concoctions. During language therapy, sometimes they talk excitedly about their passions, the plot of their new favorite movie, or an exciting event at work or school. Sometimes, patients give creative compliments or tell funny jokes.
On days when I have closed myself off, moments like these crack my heart open, letting the light in.
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Redefining “The Least of These”
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. -Matthew 25:40
So often I imagine the ones I serve as “the least of these.” After all, often I serve someone who seems “less fortunate” than me—materially, medically, or in some other way. Society views those who need help as “lesser.”
But Jesus doesn’t.
He calls me to let go of my pride and to treat those I serve as my equals. We are, all of us, “the least of these.” When I acknowledge my own weaknesses and allow those I serve to serve me in their own way if they choose, everyone’s experience is richer.
When I am open to receiving God’s blessings through those I serve, I value their dignity as whole persons, and I can truly delight in them. Whether I am serving others spontaneously and informally or in a professional or formal setting, God calls me to be both a conduit and a recipient of His grace and love.
How are you both a servant and a recipient of service in your own life?To Serve and Be Served #BISblog // Click To Tweet