It feels like it should be easier to serve other people. I sometimes feel that way (there, I said it). Do you ever feel that way?
At the front end it seems like the hard work's getting to the place where your heart is generous and you want to take time and energy to pass kindness along to others. Turning off the TV and getting up off the couch. Deciding to give up a free Saturday, to forgo your own interests. To do something you don't have to do.
So OK, let's say you get to that point. You cross the hurdle: you're in. Great, now things should should be all downhill from here. After all, you have Found Your Generous Heart. You and the world are now poised to start collaborating on this serving thing - to roll out this kindness you've decided to prioritise.
But then. Shock to the system - you discover that actually, that first step *wasn't* the hard part. Because now you have to plan and organise and spend money. You have to encounter obstacles. But this is illogical - why should there be obstacles when you are Trying to Serve Other People? After all (and think I mentioned this already), you don't have to do this.
I'm pretty sure this reaction isn't unique to me, and here's my Exhibit A: adoption. Fact is, it takes a lot of time. It involves a lot of work (logistically and emotionally). And most often, it costs a lot of money. When folks first encounter the details, they say: "What? That's ridiculous! That child needs a home, and those people are doing a great thing, providing one. Why should they have to jump through a thousand hoops and pay a fortune to do it?"
And they make a great point. It just seems wrong.
In December, our family decided to spearhead a bakesale to benefit local charities in Crete, where we live. In the weeks leading up to the event I went through the cycle of emotions. Enthusiasm for the project - that we were, in fact, prioritising service. (Yay! And many parts of it were tremendously fun.) Planning mode, accompanied by irritation- for example, that we had to deal with bureaucracy (a food handlers' safety course) to hold the event on base. Find-your-patience mode - that we had to help the organisers <ahem, our kids> find cooperative spirits and figure out kitchen-sharing and mess-cleaning-up. How-much-is-this-costing-us? mode, as we went back to the store yet another time to grab an ingredient we'd forgotten. Like any service effort, it came with a decent amount of work.
What starts out rousing and enlarging at the soul level can feel downright annoying in execution. Your inner Grinch gripes, and in your worst moment you lament that you didn't just stay on the couch watching TV after all. Even at the end, when the bakesale had gone well and the kids raised more money than anyone anticipated, there were unexpected headache. Like figuring out how best to donate the money, and in actually doing the donating.
Let's be honest, all this is sounding like a terrible downer. (Unfair too, since the bakesale was fun and a huge success... but bear with me.) What's the moral of this story anyway? Don't bother serving because it can be a pain in butt and isn't gratifying?
No. The opposite actually.
Because serving is our heritage; it's who we are as followers of Jesus. He showed this when he stooped to the ground and started washing his friends' feet. "I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you." We're here to take care of each other, and to tend to other's wellbeing with the same attention we use when we tend to our own. Sometimes with more attention - like Jesus did when he went to the cross for us. The ultimate act of service and self-denial - doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. At enormous personal cost.
In Jesus' example we gather that serving often wasn't pretty. Sometimes it was brutally painful. But love and victory were the ultimate result.
It can take some soul-wrestling to see this, and to process through the emotional turbulence that can come with serving. (And this might be "event/ministry" type serving, or just everyday, make-dinner-for-your-kids type serving.) Because serving sometimes will be irksome, and lonely, and expensive. Because self-denial's not particularly fun. Because serving requires character traits we sometimes hold in short supply-- like humility, perseverance, and a hopeful outlook.
But. Thankfully when we run short on these (as we always will), we have an infinite supply at the ready that we can tap into anytime we want. And this is a big part of the point: doing what Jesus does, with the strength and vision that he provides. He promises, as we stay close to him, we will ultimately come out with more than we put in.
And it will always be worth it.