“Service is like peeing your pants. Everyone sees the results, but only you get to feel the warmth.” This turn of phrase from back when I was in Boy Scouts is something that has always stuck with me. When it was time to do one of the many service projects we did, sometimes we needed to pump ourselves up a bit, and humor is a very powerful tool. As an adult I try to keep in mind the words from Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” In my eyes, service is a three-pillar system: providing service to others, providing service to yourself, and being accepting of service. You may think I am crazy, but hear me out.
#1: Service to Others
Obviously, this is the most common service and the one you likely expected to read about when you started this article. Marie Osmond has said, “Being of service to others is what brings true happiness.” I find this to be true in my life. I have been able to provide service for many people in my life both through family and friend service projects, as well as through organizations like my church and the Boy Scouts. I have had incredible examples of service to others in my life as well. Service can be something that takes but a few minutes or something that takes several hours or days. It can be something that is simple, or something back-breaking. However you do it, do it with love. Audrey Hepburn said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
My sister spent some time in Alberta, Canada as a volunteer for her church. While there, a large river flooded a town she was staying in. While she and her apartment were fine, a great many homes were destroyed. She spent several days helping to clean up houses from the mud and water, and trying to salvage people’s lives and property. This was a large undertaking and she informed us of the exhaustion and sorrow felt by all of those involved. Ultimately; however, she was excited that she was able to help out and make the lives of these people she was serving a little bit better. She jumped right in and worked hard because there was a need and looking back on what she was able to accomplish brought a profound and unbreakable sense of love for those she served. My sister is a stalwart example of serving selflessly and completely. Yet, she will tell you that she gained more out of helping those people than they ever did, because of the unmeasurable feelings of accomplishment and pure love that ultimately feeled her soul for a job well done.
I have been lucky enough to have wonderful examples of service in my life. My mother has always had an altruistic side, even when it’s not outwardly apparent. She has always been the first to send a card when she knows someone suffering through a trying time, sent food to a family who is enduring a trial, or going without something so that her children are taken care of. She does this without wanting or needing recognition. My grandfather is also a prime example of true service. Throughout his long life, he has been of the disposition to literally give the shirt off his back. He has had people move in with him when they needed to get back on their feet. He has organized clothing drives, picked up furniture from family members who were getting rid of it to give to someone who needed it. He has loaned his vehicles to children and neighbors who need to get to work. He has… Honestly, the man takes service more seriously than anyone else I’ve ever met. Even now at his advanced age, and less than spry health, he still tries to help everyone he comes across.
When I was in the Boy Scouts, we did more service projects than I can really count. We did small things like cleaning the trails as we hiked, raking neighbor’s leaves, and mowing people’s lawns. One of the more intense projects was for an elderly neighbor whose house was being repossessed and who would have nowhere to go. Someone donated a piece of land, and others donated supplies and expertise, and together with us Scouts, we built this woman a small, but functional 1 bedroom house for free. It was exhaustive, backbreaking work, but for this woman, it made her whole world. Service does not have to be this grand. Small acts of kindness are just as important.
Have you ever been “elfed?” You probably have, you just called it something else. At Christmas time, we would pick a family in our area that we knew needed a little extra help, we would wrap presents, stick them in a bag, and “doorbell ditch” the family with the bag of gifts. We called it “elfing” because of the time of year, and feeling like we were helping Santa by being his elves. We were recipients of this exchange as well, and it was so lovely and exciting to receive these sweet gifts. Maybe you have done the 12 Days of Christmas for someone where you give a small thoughtful gift for the 12 days leading up to the holiday. Maybe you participate in an Angel Tree. These are all sweet, simple, and thoughtful service projects that get you in the spirit of the holiday and help those in need.
Have you ever given someone a “Heart Attack?” I’m not talking about that time your sister jumped out of the darkness of the basement and you were sure your heart stopped, but something very different. “Heart Attacking” is something that shows how much you care about someone. Cut out paper hearts in different sizes and colors, however many you want, write complimentary phrases on them, and stick them to someone’s door. Then ring the doorbell and run. The person on the receiving end of this feels so loved, and so appreciated. Again, it’s a simple act on your part, but it can change the entire outcome of the other person’s day. Maya Angelou stated, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maybe you don’t have the ability to donate your time or strength to serve others. This does not exclude you from being able to assist others. You can send a kind and thoughtful card to brighten someone’s day. You can send a text message or a quick phone call and it will make all the difference. You can make a monetary donation or even set up a system for others to donate to someone. aGoodCause.com is an excellent place where you are able to set up a campaign to help yourself, or more importantly, others get donations from others to help with whatever is needed.
I am a big Cinephile (keep your head out of the gutter, it means I love movies.) There are many beautiful movies that illustrate service, and honestly, I could go on for a very long time about them, but one of the most poignant to me is “The Ultimate Gift.” This movie begins with a spoiled, bratty, trust fund kid whose father dies. He is left his father’s entire fortune, but he cannot take possession of it until he follows through on a series of tasks designed to help him become selfless and to learn the importance of serving others. He goes on quite the journey during the film, including meeting a young mother and her daughter who is going through cancer treatment. He learns the importance of family, and the Ultimate Gift of love by serving others.
#2: Service to Self
Audre Lorde said, “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” I know, you might be thinking, this guy is nuts. “Service to myself?” But hear me out. Who do you spend the most time with every day? Nope, it’s not your spouse, not your dog, not your co-workers, and not your kids. I’ll give you a hint; look into that shiny thing on the wall in your bathroom… It’s You!! In fact, it was You all along! In all seriousness, taking care of yourself is as important and some may even argue even more important than taking care of others. Now, I am not advocating for becoming a hermit or ignoring the plight of everyone else because you believe you are better than them. First and foremost, no one is better than anyone, so get that out of your head. But what I am speaking about, is that if your life is unstable and messed up, it can impact your ability to care for others. Example: if you are constantly depressed and unable to get out of bed, how are you going to get out there and help someone rake their leaves?
If you’ve ever been on a plane, part of the safety demonstration includes the oxygen masks that may descend into the cabin in the event of an emergency. As part of the script for the demonstration, they say to make sure you put your own mask on first prior to helping any children or others next to you. This has always been an interesting thought to me. I thought, why wouldn’t I want to help my child first to make sure they are ok? But the reality is, if I pass out from no oxygen, no one is getting helped, and it makes things so much worse. This is similar to what we need to do with ourselves in regards to service. We need to make sure we are serving ourselves, (not exclusively), to make sure we can help others.
#3: Accepting Service
“To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” Mr. Mark Twain said those words, and does it not describe service most beautifully? We talked about providing service to others, and service to ourselves, but what about when service is done unto us? A kind gesture of service when you are in need is priceless. What can lower the value of your joy and the joy of the one providing the service is pride and being unable to accept the help of someone else.
There have been times in my family’s life where we needed some help. We didn’t advertise this but yet some truly kind-hearted people somehow knew. Whether it was the “elfing” when I was a child or an envelope of cash with a sweet card, we have been very blessed with amazing people in our lives. But imagine for a moment if we would have said no and refused the gifts? I’m not talking about the polite, “oh you shouldn’t have,” or, “I can’t accept that.” I’m talking about straight up refusing to accept the kind-hearted gift. Imagine how that would make someone feel? What right do you have to defuse the joy of someone who thought of you?
Pride is a difficult emotion. While it is important to have pride in yourself and your achievements, when your pride takes away from other’s happiness is when it becomes harmful. John C. Maxwell articulated this well in the following quote, “There are two kinds of pride. ‘Good pride’ represents our dignity and self-respect. ‘Bad pride’ is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.” If you view yourself as better than, you are denying the “good pride” of others.
Follow the Three Pillars of Service
Service to others, service to self, and acceptance of service are the three pillars of service. Each day that we are privileged to live on planet earth that there will be presented good causes that will allow us to take part in one or all of the three pillars of service. Be kind to others and be willing to give of yourself, when you can, to make someone’s life better. Be kind to yourself and make sure your needs are taken care of so you can help others most effectively. Lastly, be willing to accept the gift of service gracefully. If we can do these things, we are able to reach a better plane in life and experience true happiness.
Author: Elijah Brandley