Monday, October 14, 2013

A Servant in My House

"I am not a servant in this house!"  That is what my five-year old emphatically declared when I asked her to take out the trash.  She hates that job above all others.  Have you ever seen someone under 4 feet tall try to put on her shoes, hold the trash bag and never let go of her nose?  It's a sight.  

I took the trash from her hand, snagged a nearby stool with my foot and sat down with her on my lap.  Then we had a heart to heart about what it means to be a servant and how Jesus became a servant.  We recited "taking the form of a bond-servant and being found in appearance as a man."  I gave her a hug and reluctantly she picked up the plastic bag.

I walked away wondering if she understood the lesson.  Not the one about obedience; she got that!  I wonder if she got the one about pride and humility.  Maybe the better question is did I absorb the lesson?  And if I didn't how do I start? 

It seems lessons on "service" are everywhere.  I went to Amazon and typed in "servant leader" and I found pages full of business books teaching how to be great leaders by engaging in service.  I'm not criticizing; who wouldn't like to see the business world follow more of Jesus's principles? 

Yet a recent re-reading of Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline," brought me this painful line, "In service we must experience the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves.  Service banishes us to the mundane, the ordinary, the trivial."  Mundane service isn't the kind that people write books about.  It's the kind of service we find in a family. 

Families, especially ones with small children, run on service.  Dishes must be washed, floors swept, groceries bought.  Children must be bathed, hair must be brushed, and homework has to be checked.  

Every family does it-some better, some not so good. Yet I dare say not every person doing the service is being transformed by it into the likeness of their Savior (John 13:1-7, Philippians 2:1-13).  In fact, in many young mothers, the seeds of bitterness that will grow into 30 years worth of grumbling, anger, and discontent are sown in the laundry, the diapers and the dishes.  

I have been there.  

My five-year old is there, right now.  "I am not a servant in this house!" 

Yet there is no other situation in my life where I have a greater opportunity to serve in secret, in silence, and in humility.  Where else can I truly serve and be rewarded by my Father? Jesus harshly condemned religious activity like fasting and prayer to be seen of men.  Service that gains me an earthly reward does not gain me a heavenly one (Matthew 6).  Serving at work earns me a wage.  Serving as a volunteer earns me a pat on the back. Serving at church earns me the gratitude of my leaders and the encouragement of my friends.  But trust me, no one pays me to scrub the bathtub.  No one even knows I scrub the nasty thing.  They might notice if I stopped...I'm not sure.  

Sometimes I wish I could put my "real" life on hold.  I could go to a convent, a retreat center, or a cabin in the woods and try to grow as a Christian.  I could spend hours a day in Bible reading, stay up all night praying, and plan how I was going out into the world in humility like Mother Teresa to serve the down-trodden.  And yet the trouble is that very image is overlain not with piety but a desire to escape the actual service God is calling me to. 

Real humility, real growth is here, in the dishes and the dirty tub, in being a real servant in my house.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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