adulthood · growth · service

Be of … service?




When I first started to hear this phrase, and became
conscious enough to hear it and its message, I said: No.
I feared that if I “gave of myself,” if I “give to others
what was freely given to me,” I would have none left. I feared that if I gave
to you what I had, there wouldn’t be any left for me.
Imagine a channel, a tube, a pipe, and into it is being
poured all the light in the world. For the first time ever, the owner of that
pipe feels what it’s like to feel grace, held, helped, hope. The owner of this
pipe, however, has blocked off the bottom. Pinched it off like a garden
hose—No, I will not let it spill out the other side. If I do, I can’t be sure
that the water will fill my portion, I can’t be sure that my side of the
channel will be full. I can’t risk not having what I have now. No.
Something happens, however, when you block up a hose like
this—what’s inside the hose begins to turn and spoil, it loses some of its
luster and charm. In the end, what you sought so hard to save and keep has
rotted because you sought so hard to
save and keep it.
I still fear that if I give of my time or attention or love, that I won’t have enough for me. Even despite all the evidence I’ve gathered as I slowly loosened my grip on the nozzle and let some of what I was receiving
open toward others. I have plenty of evidence for the benefits of giving, and yet I still get
I could also point to the outpouring of love and help I received when I was sick—and I
don’t think that depleted my friends… Well, actually some it did, and one was
able to say as much and I respected her need to back off from helping so much;
and one was
unable to say she was
being depleted, and instead our relationship turned to one of resentment, and
eventual distance.
I mean, I guess there is a way where giving can be
depleting, and I think that’s where my sense-memory barges in to tell me to give
of myself means to give away myself.
But, I think this is a different manner of giving than the one intended by the
“be of service” mantra. The kind of depleting giving is one where there is ego
involved, and an expectation of something in return—approval, appreciation,
reciprocity. Or, you give in a certain way because that’s the way you think will get
you the order you want, the result you want for yourself or the other person.
The kind of help that I think I’m supposed to offer is the
kind that really is “freely given,” demanding nothing in return, truly having
no expectations of how the other will receive, or even reject, what I offer.
I don’t really know why I bring this up today, why it’s on
my mind, except perhaps my review at my job happened last week, and I’ve been
thinking about some of that feedback.
Actually, that’s probably a lot of it. A mentor of mine
intones to me near constantly about my job: Just show up and be of service.
And to her, I say, F’ service.
It is hard for me to show up and be of service at my job. I
know that it is, and it comes out in resentful ways as impatience,
procrastination, neglect of detail. “I don’t know how,” is really my answer to
her advice. I don’t know how to be of service at my job. I don’t know how to
appreciate every interaction I have. My job exhausts me. Being the front face of
every phone call, every person at the door, everyone who wanders by the front office–and I can’t give all the time.
I just can’t, and so I protect myself and my energies by being less than
welcoming – which is the feedback I heard last week.
So, I found an image online from Elf, the Will Farrell Christmas movie. It’s of him wearing a huge, manicly excited grin, and
the words, “I just love to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” I pasted a copy under
the receiver of my phone, and behind my computer monitor. It reminds me to
smile, but not because of service. More because of sarcasm and irony. More
because of contempt and rebellion.
I don’t know how to be of service at my job. I know I do
tasks well enough, and so, I do. But, if there is a way to unkink my hose and
allow some of the grace I know I have and have been given to even trickle a
little more throughout the day, and not just toward my favorite people or
assignments, … well, I suppose I’m open to learning how to be of service
without getting dried out. 

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