In reading Mother Teresa some years ago, I remember she told her new helpers that all the people that came to the Home for the Dying were "Christ in his most distressing disguise,". That is to say, that the help and comfort that they were giving to people that arrived at the home were to be treated as though they were Christ. She went on to describe people stuck in sewers whose open wounds had attracted all varieties of nasty things, and for the sisters of Charity, those people were their opportunity to show love to Christ.
This all spoke to me.
Service is hard. Even when you are not taking care of people abandoned in death, it is hard. Taking care of the living is messy, hard.
Even if we get over ourselves enough to give a few hours of the week, there are challenges we never anticipated. People who take advantage of charity. People who somehow seem to know our weaknesses and go right at them. People who lack any gratitude, but rather complain about the quality of what they receive. People who ask much more than we are able to give.
It is enough to make almost anyone just quit.
My husband does a ministry he loves. It is the wood ministry. He delivers wood to people who need heat for the winter. He brings the kids, they make friends. It is altogether a good thing. He also makes coffee for a group who meet to worship and learn. He realized later he did have hopes of what might have come of these service ops, but they never manifested. Of course he doesn't stop. He loves to be useful.
My own work in service has been messier. It has played on personal weaknesses, have felt taken too far in what I could give. Life lesson? Boundaries, and perhaps a dusting of not guilting myself to give more than I could, because the end of that was quitting.
Where am I going with this? Am I saying it is better we don't serve unless we are good at it? I am not ready to say that.
I have heard that doesn't call us only if we are ready (or equipped), rather that he makes ready (or equipped) those he calls. So I wait. Equip me, please.
Service is not easy. Even harder when what lands in our lap is exactly going to need us to be strong where we are weak.
And when our "confidants" point out "Well the problem is that you are weak in this area," OH! Thank you, I was hoping someone would come along to offer some criticism.
My point is, at some point service will likely become hard. Maybe even too hard. Ministry work is not messing around stuff, your boundaries will be crossed, your anger may be activated and the areas of weakness in your character will be exposed. What is the use then?
Well, then I supppose one might ask themselves then "Why am I doing this?"
Is it because it makes me feel magnanimous?
I want to be redeemed for my faults to do something good?
Because I have nothing much more to do?
Because I feel guilty about something?
Because I want to do good?
Because I want to give back for what I have received?
Because I feel like I ought to?
Figuring out why to pursue doing things which are hard, painful, unpleasant is an important thing too, the motivation to service is really relevant, it will determine one's level of commitment for when things get hard, unpleasant, messy or inconvenient. And service-related work will eventually get at least one or more of those things.
But if one finds the enduring reason (for me, it is the example Christ set), then maybe in going through those times when one feels insulted, diminished and undervalued (by one's own perception) might bring some good wisdom, humility, honesty and reality to one's life.
Perhaps? Didn't Jesus get all that stuff too? Didn't St. Francis tell us to consider ourselves blessed in persecution because of our faith? Uh. Hard truths.
file this under: things I am still working on.