Recently, I had a flood of sudden memories about a compliment that so many people gave me in my early life—they told me I had a heart for service. A thrill of excitement and acknowledgment would run through me every year or so when someone would say this. It meant people were watching me, were taking stock of the way I do things, and they had decided that I had a gift. A God-given gift. A gift for giving!
I remember a specific instance of this so clearly, even though it happened about 18 years ago. I had volunteered to help with Vacation Bible School at the church I was attending. It meant driving about 30 minutes away to be there at 7:30 a.m. every day for a week, and shepherding kids (mine were about 6 or 7 years old) around to various tasks. I remember the art class best. I don’t think it lasted more than 20 minutes, and the kids drew or glued or whatever had been decided that day. I would walk around and talk to them about their art, asking, ‘Can you tell me about this?’ When we were almost done, I would help the kids clean up and get ready for the next stop on our schedule.
At the end of the week, my youth pastor came up to me and said the art teacher had to talk to me. She was in tears—sobbing actually—and grabbed me up for a hug. She explained that no other leader had asked the kids to help clean up. They just left a mess and she had to straighten everything in the minute before the next class arrived. No one else had interacted with the kids while they were in her class, instead choosing to sit in the corner and wait until the allotted time was over. ‘What a beautiful heart for service you have,’ she told me as we hugged again.
I was elated. I was so proud. I had done something kind and helpful and I hadn’t even known I was doing it. I had no idea what a helpful relief I was in her day. For me, this is one of my proudest moments.
I left church a long time ago now. I think there may be a god, but I honestly don’t give it much thought. I miss the community. I miss there being a place I could use my gift so easily and effortlessly. But I don’t miss people telling me they know how God wants me or others to live. I don’t miss all the judgment and the rules, and the guilt. I don’t miss having to defend my decisions.
These days I use my gift for service in my job and in small ways every day. I try to help people get on or off the bus if they have a cane or a stroller. I ask lost people if they need help and I help people putting on their coats and backpacks when I seem them struggling on the train.
No one tells me I have a heart for service anymore. I just try to be kind whenever I can be in whatever small way presents itself. My moral compass has been influenced by the church, but it’s not dependent on nor did it come from it. I liked how it felt to be helpful and so I kept doing it until it changed the way I see the world. Now that I see the need for small kindnesses, I can be instances of those kindnesses. And you can too, regardless of your religion, if you just start looking.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on serving from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.