Prairie View

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gifted for Service

“She’s taken ownership of her problem and she’s proud of it.” That was the way my co-teacher recently explained to a whole van load of people why he didn’t feel guilty about giving them a sample of my forgetfulness.

I corrected him in a hurry. “Not proud of it. It’s way too inconvenient for that. I’ve just learned to laugh at it, because it usually doesn’t do any good to do anything else.”

I don’t usually spend a lot of time obsessing about how I wish I were different–less forgetful or less–something-else. But recently I’ve had several occasions to see the self-sacrificing behavior of others, and I realize I operate very differently than they do. I feel vaguely guilty, but also quite unprepared to adopt their habits. I’ve concluded that the people I’ve been watching guiltily have the gift of serving, and I don’t. That is, they have a powerful drive to serve others in practical ways. They go out of their way to find opportunities to do so–and they feel best and most fulfilled when they’re able to do it.

I’ve been blessed by being on the receiving end of the thoughtfulness of many people like this. While I know their acts of service require sacrifice, I look at what it would take for me to accomplish the same kinds of giving and I know I could never manage to do for others what they do for me and for others. I'm simply overwhelmed by the logistics.

They prepare food and invite company, then urge the leftovers on the guests later on. They don’t even care if their young guests go to the refrigerator and help themselves to things that have already been stowed away. If they dirty more dishes, that’s OK.

On the other hand, if I have leftovers after a meal for guests, if any food has survived long enough to make it into refrigerator containers, I’ve already counted it in as part of the next day’s menu. I’m feeling a sense of satisfaction that the hard work of preparing for company at least presents the prospect of easing my work load for the immediate future. I am not amused if I discover the next day that the leftovers have gone missing.

If the dishes have already been cleared away, I don’t want to have to do it all over a second time just because someone didn’t eat all they needed during mealtime.

I manage the family’s laundry differently from some of the mothers I know who cheerfully see to the laundry for everyone in the household, even the teenage daughters who change clothes often and need clothes ironed regularly. I do the laundry for myself and my husband. Either he or I also wash towels for everyone and the bedding for our own bed. We wash white underwear and socks for ourselves and our nearly-grown children–all boys.

The boys are on their own with the rest of their laundry. I’ve shown them how to pre-treat spots, and I’ve given them ironing lessons. More importantly, I’ve shown them how to use the dryer and clotheslines wisely to avoid as much ironing as possible. They do their own clothes shopping and some of their own mending. Periodically, they go through their drawers and closets and sort out items to go into a bag labeled “donate.” When they travel, they take along a spray bottle and moisten and hang their clothes the night before they need them to relax the wrinkles from having been packed.

I’m quite sure that some of the serving-gifted women I know would not feel right about doing so little with their boys’ clothes. Me? I’m delighted to see how well the boys do on their own.

I am not a complete stranger to the pleasure of doing something for others. I genuinely enjoy cooking for my family. I can help students with schoolwork all day long without wearying of it. Need information? I’ll see what I can find. Ideas? Coming right up.

I believe it’s important to do my part to relieve the burdens of others in whatever way God prompts me to. I take my turn with the jobs of church and community service, usually without complaining. I know that this is all part of my reasonable service, and I believe the Bible where it says that God loves a cheerful giver, and that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We’ve had exchange students in our home for many months, and I have loved having them.

But if God wants me to love having open season on my refrigerator with guests in the house, and if He wants me to labor regularly and lovingly over my sons’ clothes, He’ll have to make me into a different person. I have no idea how this can happen otherwise.