Coming around the corner at the grocery store an audible groan escaped my lips. Seriously, there were three lanes open in a store that called for 15? As you can imagine each line swayed and wrapped back far. Looking at the frozen food in my cart I hoped we would make it home intact.
About 10 minutes into the wait a woman from another line started huffing and puffing throughout each line complaining loudly at how awful the service was. Just then another register opened, but I couldn’t get there fast enough. Finally another 5 minutes and the manager pointed to me, and said, “C’mon over!” Noticing a gentleman with fewer groceries trying to make his way over, I could see his obvious frustration that my bulging cart would jump to the forefront. Thinking I was being “Christian,” I invited him to go first; as I knew he had been waiting awhile as well. “Would you mind if we let this woman be in front?” he inquired, “She has been waiting a long time too.” “Of course I responded.” My thought was, “What a nice guy, he gets offered the first slot and gives it away.” I believed he would then take his place right behind me. Instead he made space for the woman and then himself. I admit, I was annoyed. My offer was for one not two people with full carts to skip me. Looking at my face the guy let out a half- hearted, “Is this all right?” Mumbling under my breath I sputtered, “Well I would have stayed in my own line if it was going to be like this.”
As I brooded over the selfishness of line guy, (You want someone else to go first, then you go last.) I was struck by my own egotistical view. In the end I am still most important. I will serve, as long as I am able to control my service. As long as it doesn’t put me out then I am willing to give my time. Loving your neighbor as yourself or even dying to self is more work than I want to admit. Still I am complaining intermittently that I “serve” a myopic generation. They are apathetic, unable to see how spoiled they are as they live in an entitled state. So I want to teach them to look outward beyond the edge of their nose. My first inclination is to provide a “service” experience for them. Maybe we can raise money for an organization or take a trip. This will bring change, but they are merely a catalyst for transformation. If I struggle with my own selfishness, what are the “first” steps to teaching my youth to serve?
1. It’s About Lifestyle: I believe we need to teach our students to de-compartmentalize giving of themselves. It needs to become ingrained into the essence of our being. The “event” is only one facet of a much larger picture. Showing our students the power in unnoticed, un-qualified, day to day service is a powerful tool.
2. Learn to Notice: When I think of the word “servant” there are a handful of people who come to mind. They are the ones that notice when something is needed and immediately move to action. You don’t even have to ask, because they are already giving themselves away. For the rest of us it is not as natural to observe and move. We need to “practice” the art of serving. This means we take a conscious look around for ways to serve. Teach our students to do the same, moment by moment.
3. It’ Just Not Glamorous: Recently I hosted a large service oriented event that drew youth groups from around the state. The plan had been to bless the local elderly by painting their homes. Our day arrived… it rained. In an effort to readjust we organized a neighborhood clean up instead. You heard right. We picked up trash. One of the youth leaders came to me with a complaint, “I can’t get my kids to do this, they didn’t come here to clean garbage. They came to paint.” The group left early that day. Before you give the leader 30 lashes, we have ALL thought it, if we haven’t said it out loud. We want our serving to be “fun.” However, I find that it’s rarely about getting our picture on the cover of something. Instead it is about being about Christ, and giving ourselves away the way he did.
4. Avoid False Humility: If I am honest sometimes I DO want to be noticed. I know that isn’t what the Lord says. It should be enough to know that he asked me to offer myself. There are days when I grapple with that. Let your kids know when you do as well. Let them know that serving is about choice and action. We are able because we have the power of God pushing us on. Still our free will is in motion when it comes to being self-less in any way.
5. Teachable Moments: Allow your students to see you serve, and invite them to work alongside you. My own children have the wonderful privilege of watching a father who has an amazing servant’s heart. They are used to seeing him take the time to change our neighbor’s flat tire or the first to offer you anything you need. Recently we were driving when we all saw a woman walking. All of a sudden she tripped, twisted her ankle and fell on the sidewalk. It was my son who exclaimed, “We have to stop and help her! I think she’s hurt!” Of course my husband stopped, we got out and called the ambulance. What I love though is that my son has youth leaders as well who ask him to come along and clean out a church members garage, or weed a neighbor’s garden. Invite your students to be a part of your servant lifestyle. This is the way they learn to adopt it for themselves.
After my grocery store interaction I posted this on Facebook: “Serving is 2% Choice and 98% Action.” A friend commented saying, “It could be said that it is 98% Choice and 2% Action.” I guess you could say it either way. We see the need, we step into the need. Simple, but not always easy. Trips and events are great catalysts for students to see the larger picture. However, they should be the exclamation point on an ongoing conversation of learning. It’s Biblical. It’s who Christ wants us to be. Yet, I am still walking out of the store convicted that Jesus shining in me is always more important than a little melted ice cream. There are times when, someone demands their place in line. As Matthew 5 tells me, I should really have offered that spot in the first place.