Volunteering. It’s always something I’ve meant to do, I just never really took the step to make it a priority.
But the past couple months, I’ve started hosting a weekly dinner and study space for college students at church. And I’m trying to find ways to do more things for other people–exploring how I can incorporate a mindset of service into my daily life.
As I’ve been doing that, I’ve noticed something kind of unsettling. The more I give up my time, the more I notice myself feeling sort of entitled.
… As if the world should be recognizing how awesome I am, and compensating me accordingly. With a ribbon or a prize or … well, something.
Take tonight. I bought pizza for the college group dinner. I’ve been trying to cook for them (burgers, tacos, that sort of thing) — but since I don’t have a car right now, I wanted a dinner that would be easy to transport on the bus.
So I picked up three pizzas and a carton of salad. Luckily, the bus stop was literally across the street from Papa Johns, and it was a direct route to church.
Sidenote: If you want people to talk to you on the bus, try carrying three boxes of pizza. Everyone will comment. “You must be hungry.” “What’s the pizza for?” “For me? You shouldn’t have!”
Forty minutes (and no bus transfers!) later, I arrived at church: stuck the pizzas in the oven to warm, set up the space and waited.
Tonight, 6 students showed up. Each week, it can vary from 2-15 people. But tonight, 6 students got dinner, plus a couple church employees.
And honestly, that didn’t feel like enough to me. As the night progressed, started to feel frustrated.
Why didn’t more people show up? I bought 3 pizzas, and they’d only eaten 1 1/2 of them so far. Couldn’t they eat more? I mean, I’d put in above average effort getting dinner here. Didn’t that deserve an above average response?
If so few people were going to be helped, what was even the point of putting in the effort?
It’s shocking how quickly I was able to take something meant to help others…and promptly make it all about me.
As if my effort was supposed to be directly proportional to the benefit and outcome. As if every time I sacrificed something, I’d be compensated accordingly. As if serving others is some sort of cosmic points and rewards system … which I know it most definitely is not.
When 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace,” it doesn’t promise that you’ll be rewarded every time you serve.
Romans 12:11 says, “Keep … serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.” Nowhere does it add, “and for every hour of time spent serving, you’ll receive X amount of reward in heaven. Congrats!”
Nope, instead, Romans 12:3 says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” And this comes right after the not-to-easy request to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” … and to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
God wants for us to offer our bodies — our lives — as a living sacrifice to him, giving up what our world values and resetting our priorities to be in line with his. And here I am complaining because I chose to carry 3 pizzas on the bus for 40 minutes, and nobody bothered to give me a gold star for how awesome I was.
We don’t serve others to get a reward. We serve others because that is what Jesus did. And we want to partner with him in action. Jesus spent his life caring for, feeding, teaching, and otherwise majorly disrupting his life to show that he valued other people more than himself.
He gave up everything … time, convenience, comfort, and you know, ultimately HIS LIFE, to show people how much they mattered to God. And to give them the chance to live forever with him.
And here I am getting annoyed when 4 hours of my Sunday evening don’t make me feel as helpful or awesome as I was expecting them to.
After spending most of my life meaning to do more for other people … but not ever actually getting around to it, I’m glad to be finally taking steps to make service more of a regular part of my life. It’s absolutely the direction I want to be headed.
But I am still learning. I have a lot of room to grow. If I don’t pay attention, it’s easy to get discouraged by silly things that don’t ultimately matter … by feelings of entitlement … and other traps that can keep me from wanting to give.
Because, shockingly, doing things for other people isn’t all about me.
It’s funny how difficult that can be to figure out.