He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ – Mark 9:35
This week I am visiting old stomping grounds along the Pacific coast. Immersing myself in tall green waves foaming over vicious rocks, a cold wind and a very long view, I have let go of my usual duties and concerns. Vacation lets me look at my life from a little distance, allowing me to celebrate what is going well and think about how to change what isn’t.
Vacation also lets me experience a few moments of other people’s lives. I have met a guest house owner who silk screens vegetable mandalas on tee shirts and raffles them to raise money for the local food bank, a marine biologist who passionately loves the whales in her small harbor and her whale-spotting dog, a motel owner who patrols his establishment as though it were a castle keep, to assure his guests’ safety, a wine seller with a corny sense of humor, a biker still high from a youth rally called something like “Rocking Jesus in the Redwoods”, and a young Park ranger beset by mosquitoes who went to college in the city where I live.
All these lives, unfurled like bright flags, are flying triumphantly on the wind, gracing the world with their bright colors. Too soon they will be gone, and so will mine. It’s good to muse on that. It makes me wonder. We each know what we value, what we cherish, what we deem success. We know our goals and our dreams. But from God’s point of view what makes for a successful life?
In the passage from Mark associated with William Wilberforce, one of the holy man being honored today, we get a succinct answer to this question. The disciples have been arguing who is the greatest among them. And Jesus says to them that the first are the ones who are servants of all.
There are many ways to be a servant. One of my models is the proficient waiter or waitress. These people pay attention in just the right ways. If you are at one of their tables, they know when your water glass needs to be refilled and when to ask if you need anything, but they don’t visit too frequently, and they do not hover. I hope that I can be that sort of servant,vigilant and responsive to the needs I see around me in all the moments of my days. But I don’t want to feed my ostentatious need for acknowledgment, and I want to serve without hovering.
For William Wilberforce being a servant meant being embroiled in politics. For his entire lifetime he battled in parliament to abolish slavery in the U.K. He did this because he was incensed that people dared to believe they could own other human beings.
What does being a servant mean in your life? Your manner of responding to the needs of others emerges out of who you are. It springs from passion, a movement of the heart. The stranger whose story makes you weep, the event that sickens you, the accomplishment that inspires you,all are indicators of where you are called to serve. It is tempting to dismiss our emotional reactions as “just being too sensitive”. But they are compass needles pointing to where we are passionate about the hurts and longings of others. If, we acknowledge what draws us or shakes us up, we will come to understand who and in what ways we are to serve.
As you vacation this year, take some time to look back at your life from the outside. As God might see it, what seems to be going well? What might need to change? Where can you find the resources and companionship to serve in the ways to which you are called? How can the brief, bright flag of your life signal to others that God loves them?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: by Thomas Lawrence Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons