Be of Service, Change the World

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Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

The Bible, Matthew 23:11, says “The greatest among you will be your servant.”

Most of us have likely had the experience of what joy it is to serve others, and have felt the intangible, but very real sense of fulfillment from being in service. Whether it is in our work that we do for compensation or in volunteering, there is something in us that wants to serve, that knows this is our greatest purpose.

Mother Teresa is quoted as having said, “Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service.”

We are meant to serve. And I would say the greatest service is selfless service, known as Seva (pronounced say-vuh) in Sanskrit. There is something about serving just for the purpose of serving, without expectation of anything in return. There is a purity and innocence to this type of service that aligns us with the highest of who we are.

How do we know where to serve? I love the way the Dalai Lama speaks of it in his book, Ethics for the New Millennium. He says that when we see an opportunity to benefit others we take it, referring to is as a universal responsibility. In other words, we have a responsibility to do something whenever we are in a position to do so.

In that sense, selfless service is not a checklist item that we do to soothe our conscience. Rather, it is part of the natural fabric of life, part of who we are, and something we do in the regular course of things just as we would pick up a piece of food scrap from our kitchen floor when we noticed it there. There’s no thought process or self-congratulations; there is just the natural movement into action.

If we take the approach that there is always something we can do in any situation, then what is ours to do is easily revealed to us. We don’t need to think hard about it. Perhaps in one situation ours is simply to offer a prayer. In another we might be called to roll-up our sleeves and do some work, and in another perhaps we are to bring love and compassion through listening and offering our heartfelt responses.

We are never powerless, there is never a situation where we have nothing to contribute, and what we offer always makes a difference. This is somewhat self-evident, and at the same time contrary to what we often think and feel.

There is an example from my own life that had a profound impact on me. It involves a situation where I felt the least powerful and the least confident as to having anything of value to offer. I was asked to be of support to a man who had just lost his wife and child the day before due to complications in giving birth. The man was obviously in deep grief and inconsolable. The best I could do was to just be present to him and to offer some very practical assistance like driving him to appointments. I wanted so much to lift his pain in some way, and there were no wise words to accomplish that.

After spending time with him over a period of a week or two during his initial phase of grief, his support transitioned to others and I lost touch with him. Several years later, a man stopped me on the street in a popular shopping district and asked if I remembered him. I confessed that I did not. He reminded me that he was the man I had supported several years earlier. He recounted how valuable my support was to him and he thanked me. That experience reminded me to never again doubt that I, and all of us, can always make a difference.

The invitation this week is to remember the difference you make and to take action in any situation that presents itself, by simply doing what you can. It will make a difference.

Enjoy the journey.

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