When I was a teenager, I went to Mexico on a mission trip with our church. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to a week of hard labor and sleeping on the ground in a dirt field, but the trip changed my life.
And not just in the obvious way. A couple years later, I was starting for our high school soccer team and my goal for the year was to get a first round bye in the playoffs, because that would allow me to go to Mexico again.
We often think about service as a sacrifice. And it is. It absolutely is. It costs us something for sure. Sometimes everything.
To truly serve others requires a letting go. We would often talk about me “giving up” my Spring Break to serve in Mexico. I didn’t really like that phrasing. I was spending my Spring Break a certain way, not abdicating it. But I get the sentiment. And it is not entirely untrue. I could be doing something more comfortable, something more “fun” or more “selfish”.
The great challenge in serving others is believing it is worth more than the comfort we are so often seeking. To believe people are worth our pain. To see something greater in something the world stereotypes as “boring” or difficult.
We cannot serve without a cost. The question is: are we willing to pay what is required to love and care for others?
There is a strange reality on the other side of the coin of service. One that we don’t talk about nearly as much. It kind of flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
My trips to Mexico were fun! I had a blast laughing with the kids, sweating through the productivity and playing cards in the tent with my friends. It is a paradox for sure, but there is a certain amount of joy that comes through serving that you cannot get to any other way. A deeper, fuller joy.
Serving is not just good for others. It is good for the self. Good for the soul. There is nothing more enjoyable, strangely, than serving. I wanted to make the playoff bye not so I could go to Mexico and be miserable, but so I could go to Mexico and experience the great joy of serving.
And so, serving is one of the great juxtapositions of the human experience. It costs us something. But it gains us something as well. The truth is: nobody does anything that they do not perceive is in their own best self-interest. And so, we who serve somehow instinctively see the value in participating in service for both ourselves and the people we help.
Can you get the same (or a comparable) sense of joy without the sacrifice? I don’t think so. It is in letting go that we are capable of reaching further. It is in dying to our flesh that we are able to find our truer selves and participate in our values on a deeper level.
There is a danger (and temptation) on both ends. Sacrifice too much of yourself and you are no help to anybody. Hold onto your joy too much and you are unable to effectively serve and participate in community. The balance is a real challenge. But a real joy. The very essence of what it means to be human.