Below is a little talk I gave at school this week.
Love and Service
The Scripture tells us that we are designed to serve.
Genesis 2:15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and (keep, maintain, serve) it.
It is interesting in life how often we get things out of order. The cart before the horse is more than a cliched expression, it is our very way of life. In many things we want the consequences or the outcomes of an action to instead be the prompt for that action. This is often simply because we are deeply confused about how God made the world.
One such confusion is the relationship between love and service. If we are thinking about serving at all, we are thinking about serving someone or something that we love, or like, or at least find tolerable. We love children, or babies, or our grandparents and so we are willing to babysit or to teach the Sunday School class or to go and mow Grandma’s lawn. We have a passion for reading so we volunteer at the library. We love the outdoors so we build trails in the foothills. And while there is nothing wrong with any of the forms of service or with the motivation for this kind of service we miss something deeply important about how God made our minds and our hearts if we stop here.
Service, like worship, shapes our affections. Builds them. Creates them.
That which I serve, I will come to love.
I am a neat and tidy person. I love order, cleanliness, and peace. I am very sensitive to strong smells and rough textures. Yes, I am fussy and fastidious. Four years ago my sons began begging my husband and I to get them a dog. Naturally, I was opposed to the entire idea. Dogs smell. They track in mud and leaves. THEY SHED. But…I love my sons excessively. So, when the opportunity came up to give an unwanted puppy a home I said a cautious “yes” and took the boys to pick up Rudy. Alex and Luc were 5 and 4 and were not quite old enough to take full responsibility for a dog. My husband is a busy, busy man. Every day I fed Rudy. I filled his water bowl. I took him to the park to play. Frequently I bathed him – if you have a dog, you know what an undertaking this can be especially when your dog is a hundred pounds of bath-hating fuzzball.
You might think this is about how much I love my boys – and I really do love them – but no this is about how much I came to love Rudy. Rudy smells like a dog. His dog food smells bad to my sensitive nose. He sheds long dark hair EVERYWHERE. If he isn’t getting pet enough (and there is never “enough”) he puts is rough paws up on my lap and scratches me, nosing his face under my hand until I finally begin to pet him. But a few months into owning him I discovered one day that I loved him. It was entirely unreasonable. He’s cute in a doggy sort of way, but I’m not really susceptible to that kind of thing. I’ve met many a cute puppy who left my heart entirely unmoved. I still hate the hair. My nose is definitely still assaulted by the smells. But I love the fluffy mutt anyway. I want him to be healthy. I want him to be happy. The very definition of love is caring for the well-being of the beloved and by that definition as well as by my emotional state, it is clear that I love Rudy.
By serving Rudy every day my heart turned from indifference to love. You’ve probably heard that “Love isn’t a feeling, it’s an act of your will” or “Love isn’t a noun, it’s a verb” or some other such expression that is trying to get at the idea that Love – True Love – Caritas – is about far more than just what your emotions happen to be doing at the moment. Love is an emotional response to someone or something but love requires activity. Love requires service. And just as surely, the natural fruit of service is then love.
The maternal bond is famously strong. A mother’s devotion to her children has been the subject of much art and literature. The bond is not very mysterious though. A mother spends nine months with her body serving her unborn child. Then she spends the next year being that child’s primary source of food and comfort. This daily service fuels her affection which fuels her service which again stimulates more love until the mother-child bond is so strong it comes as close as anything on earth can to being unbreakable
Kids and pets are all well and good and may be part of your life. But this means something more for you. What and who you love is much more under your control than you think. It is much more a matter of responsibility than it is of fate. You get to choose when and where and how you serve. You get to choose who and what you cultivate love for. You are not a passive recipient of emotions. You are an active cultivator of them. You are not being dictated to by your “heart”. You are daily dictating, by your actions, what your heart will feel. You are designed by God to serve and love and then love and serve.
Feeling irritable with an annoying sibling? Find a way to give them service and you will love them more and better.
Feeling indifferent toward your school, church, community? Find a way, large or small, to serve them daily and you will come to feel what you ought toward them: affection, devotion, enthusiasm.
Frustrated by a parent, a sibling, an administrator, a teacher, or a classmate? Give. Them. Service.
Your emotional state is not the boss of you. Your feelings, your attitude, your mood are not in charge. I remind my cross – country athletes that when they are in the last third of a race and their legs are screaming at them that they should walk: your body is not in charge – you are. And so I remind you: when you are grumpy, tired, indifferent your emotions are not in charge of you. Use your will, use your knowledge, and offer service to that which you should be loving. The feeling will follow. Put the horse before the cart.
James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Scripture makes it clear that we have a considerable number of responsibilities to serve. We are first and foremost to serve those who are most in need and least protected. In the ancient world the widow and the orphan were even more vulnerable than we might realize. With no husband or father to provide, women and children had few options. Certainly, we must serve actual widows and actual orphans, but let us remember to extend that service to any we find in need of service. The weakest, the most lost, the least lovely, the most reviled by our culture stand in greatest need. We stand against the evolutionary idea that our lives are about “survival of the fittest” and live instead as Christians lifting up the weakest, knowing we are designed by God to serve and ultimately to always and only be serving Him and not ourselves.