When I started the 12 in 2012 core values series, I started with the premise that clarifying one’s values and then seeking out opportunities to exemplify them was a worthy personal growth exercise.
In reflecting on this month’s value of service, I’ve found another reason why this exercise can be valuable: sometimes you figure out what you thought you valued isn’t what you’ve been living at all.
Sure. I did a few concrete things I think count as service.
I signed up for a charity race. I bought a stranger’s coffee in the Starbuck’s line. I supported infantile scoliosis and organ donation. I sent out handwritten cards. Oh, I’ve been meaning to give an impromptu public service announcement about the importance of getting colonoscopy screenings as recommended by your doctor. (Oh, yes. I finally followed through with it. It wasn’t nearly as bad as my anxious mind had envisioned it). Do it for yourself. Do it for your family.
So as March ended, I had served. But I still felt like I had fallen short.
I should have helped more people. I didn’t really fix anything.
All the while, I struggled to keep up at work. By trade, I serve challenging schools.
So much help is needed. So much to fix. So much energy required. So much and yet so little of me to go around.
So much that it was really no wonder that today I took off to rest and go to the doctor.
Still up early despite the day off, I get an unexpected early morning call from a family member who is dealing with two difficult situations that had fallen on him all at once. He just needed an ear, perhaps some sisterly advice. I felt myself automatically moving into problem- solving mode.
That’s what I do. I help. I fix. I solve.
A few minutes later, I get a call from another friend--another situation, another problem. Unfair, unfortunate, and unlikely that anything I could do would fix the problem.
Help. Fix. Solve.
After lunch, another call from yet another friend. She hesitates to tell me of her upcoming medical procedure. She knows how I worry.
Help? Fix? Solve?
I say instead, “I know that’s a scary situation. I’ll be praying for you. And, if you are up for it, let’s get the kids together on Friday and just spend some time together. I’ve missed you.”
Could it be I was finally seeing the value of un-helping, un-fixing?
To my relative, instead I say, “I love you. I am here for you. I believe in you and know you will do what is right. If you want me to be, I will be there with you on Wednesday.”
To my friend with the unfair problem, instead I say, “I know this is small conciliation, but think of it this way, we’ll get to see each other more. We’ll get through it together.”
I realize much of what shifted here is invisible.
What changed most was my perception of the situation, of my friends and family.
I don’t have to solve what I perceive to be the problem.
I don’t have to fix what I perceive to be broken.
I can trust in the other’s ability.
I can believe that ultimately everything will be alright.
I can give what I have and not feel guilty about what I don’t.
I can try to view the situation from another’s perspective.
I can be there, maybe not offering everything they need, but offering kindness and encouragement.
And with that, I was reminded of an essay on service a friend once sent me by Rachel Naomi Remen.
Our service serves us as well as others. That which uses us strengthens us. Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting. Over time we burn out. Service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will sustain us. Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose.
Fundamentally, helping, fixing, and service are ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak; when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.
I’d like to thank Erin for inspiring me this month with her Kindness Project. Erin, you exemplify what it means to see life as whole. Thank you.
This month's core value is hope.
Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops at all. -Emily Dickinson