Hero vs. Servant: Further reflections…

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I made it to church this morning–it’s Palm Sunday, after all!–and as I sat there, I got to thinking again about the whole hero vs. servant thing….

This time it was brought to mind as I listened to the comments from the chancel about the good and worthy work that had been done the previous week in Mexico by a group of high school students and adults.  Those who participate in the highly regarded “Mexico Mission Trip,” which our congregation has sponsored for twenty-nine years now, spend the week of Spring Break in Mexico, building houses for struggling families.  I went on a couple of these trips when I was serving as the youth pastor at our church (in one of my previous lives!), and I have witnessed first-hand the tremendous impact such an experience can have not only on those who are presented with the keys to their new house at the end of the week, but also on the trip participants.  I have felt in my own body how physically demanding the work is that causes a house to rise from the dirt in only four days.  I have felt in my soul how genuine the sense of community is that is born of shared work, shared meals, and shared laughter–and sometimes tears–around a campfire.  I have witnessed how life-changing the impact is that comes when we, who live with so much stuff…and yet so little peace, are afforded a glimpse of others, who live with so little stuff and yet so much joy…. This Mexico trip–it’s good stuff!  For so many people and on so many levels.  Definitely, very good stuff.

Building homes for those who don’t have them…serving meals to those who are hungry …providing medical services for those who can’t afford them…digging wells for those who lack access to clean water…visiting those in nursing homes and prisons who would otherwise be forgotten….  Good, good stuff.  Perhaps even the stuff of heroes, right?  And perhaps not as far-flung and exotic but definitely still heroic:  serving as a teacher, a nurse, firefighter, a doctor, a social worker, a pastor, a public servant…. The list goes on–those who give so much of themselves for the benefit of those around them.  So much good, and worthy, and noble work.  So many heroes, near and far, doing that work….

But what about me?  I have served as a missionary; I have worked as a teacher; I have worked as a pastor.  I have volunteered in homeless shelters and hospices, in soup kitchens and Sunday School classrooms, in the school and on the soccer field.  But no more.  At least not now.  I am no longer “on the front lines.”  I am no longer doing any of those “good, and worthy, and noble” works…. I am not–as I was reflecting in an earlier post–living my life as the hero I have always dreamed of being, and hoped to be….

And what about so many others we encounter in our day-to-day lives?  What about the mail carrier? the school custodian? the cashier at our local grocery store?  What about the teller at the bank? the waiter at the restaurant? the one who cuts our hair?  Those who report to work, do their job well, earn their paycheck…and keep on keeping on.  Not often being called out or acknowledged for doing “good and worthy work” or for being the kind of heroes that movies are made about….

And of course, there are others.  So many others.  Working.  Doing their job.  Getting it done, day after day.  Some may occasionally pass through our awareness, like mechanics and telemarketers, the furnace repairman and the receptionist at our local insurance office.  Others, we may never even consider, such as those who repair traffic lights when they’re not working, or who work in the factory that makes door knobs, or the people who make the clothes we wear and the plates we eat from….  What about web page designers? laundry detergent manufacturers? allergy medicine researchers? the people who are responsible for getting those things we order on Amazon off the shelves and into a box and that box on our way to our front door??  So, so many people, doing so much work….

Is it good?  Is it worthy?  Is it heroic?… Or is it “just work”?  If our work is not “heroic,” if it is not the stuff of movies (or saints?), is it somehow less good than feeding the hungry or housing the homeless? or in some way less worthy than serving on a community committee or volunteering in some commendable capacity?  Somehow, that doesn’t seem right…. Not all of us can do things like that, right?  There are legitimate constraints in our lives–responsibilities, commitments, concerns, desires, etc.–that prevent some of us from doing those things.  But we seem to feel like should somehow participate.  We give money to support those who are doing them.  We volunteer if we can.  We help as our time, finances, energy, and passions direct.  In other ways we participate in work that is good and worthy.  …Because our “work” is somehow not?…not good enough? not worthy enough? or simply, not enough??…

That seems to be how I, at least, have felt historically.  That there are “good” things to do, “good” things to be involved with, work that is admirable and noble…and worthy of praise?…. And while there are many things that could fit that description, there are certainly also things that would not.  And I wanted to do something good….And I did.  In a variety of times and places and ways.  But now I’m not.  I’m not teaching, or preaching, or feeding the hungry or comforting the dying.  I’m not volunteering in my child’s classroom or on any of my kids’ athletic teams, or distributing letters to my neighbors for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  What am I doing?  I’m washing dishes and doing laundry, buying groceries and making sandwiches, playing catch and cleaning fish tanks, supervising homework and chores and piano practice…. At different moments in these past seven+ months, I have struggled with the fact that I am doing less–and perhaps not enough–“good work”….

But I’ve begun to think differently.  I think I am still doing good.  I am doing enough good.  Perhaps we cannot all go to Mexico to build houses, but we can still “do good” wherever we are, treating those around us with kindness, fairness, and respect.  Perhaps we do not all have the gifts and skills (or time, or opportunity, or…?) required to serve as a teacher or a social worker, but perhaps when we use the gifts and skills we do have, then the work we do is good and noble, regardless of the context, the job, or even the work itself.  Perhaps we can’t fill multiple pages with a list of our volunteer activities, charitable donations, or praise-worthy endeavors, but perhaps we can help fill the lives and hearts of those around us with genuine caring, deep joy, intentional presence, and the occasional belly laugh!  🙂

Mother Theresa is reported to have said, “Not all of us can do great things, but each of us can do small things with great love.”  I love that.  Some of us can do great things, and those of us who can, should!  But all of us can do small things with great love.  Small things, perhaps, but no less good, no less noble, no less worthy.  Things, perhaps, more suited to a servant than a hero….  🙂

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