My cousin went into labor earlier this week with her firstborn. It was almost thirty years ago that she and I planned our weddings, and named our daughters-to-be and imagined them growing up together sort of how we had ourselves.
As I drove the two hours to the hospital where she delivered, with my own baby just a few months older than hers, I had lofty visions of myself as Mary, rushing to the hill country to assist her cousin Elizabeth. I was going to be of service! After all, I have been through labor six times, so I could help her and doula her, and spare her all the pain. Labor is something I know quite well.
Of course, she knew it pretty well too, having been a labor nurse all those years I was home having kids. But anyway, I was drawn on by lofty visions of serving like Mary. Or rather, offering my expert services.
When I arrived, she had been laboring for a very long time without progress, and it was becoming clear that she would likely require a Cesarean Section. It didn’t take long to assess the situation, to realize that all I could do was visit for a little while before she got some much needed rest, and was taken back for the surgery. My expert services were not required, of course, since no one can go through labor for you.
Though I wouldn’t say I was humbled in that moment. I still wanted to be there when she came to. I wanted to see her see her baby the first time. Since she had to be totally put under for the surgery, we met her baby a couple hours before she did. I wanted to nurse the baby, though that was not allowed. I wanted to put the baby in her arms, though that was the role of her husband.
As I drove home later that day, assessing the situation in hindsight, it became clear that what I went there looking for was a starring role in her birth story. It was not to be.
Instead I went home to prepare for a party at my house. Several weeks earlier she had asked me to host a party at my house for her baby’s dedication. My house was centrally located to the church and the rest of the family. The yard is big and kid friendly. All I would have to do is clean it, and her mom would bring all the food. It was an easy thing to do, and I willingly agreed.
But the time was coming to pay the piper. I had to clean my house. I hate cleaning my house. It never lasts. It gets really dirty with all these people. The cleaning has to be perfectly timed, close enough to the party that it won’t get filthy again before people arrive, and yet early enough that I get it all done. Cleaning my house is not how I wanted to be of service.
Whenever we talk about the Visitation of Mary to her cousin, we always talk about her going to offer humble service. This morning was the first time it hit me that humble service is actually the service you don’t especially want to do.
I’m a very willing servant in certain things. I have a lively imagination about bringing my bed-ridden cousin trays of breakfast, or putting on the blood-pressure cuff. But often the service one would like to offer is not the service that is required. Humble service means there’s nothing in it for you. There’s no reward. There’s no glorious memory. That’s what makes it humble.