Friday, 14 July 2017

From Serving to Served

By Megan James

Just a few weeks ago, when on retreat in Scotland, I had a minor trip on a mountain that ended in a major trip to hospital, some emergency surgery, and two broken bones in my ankle (I’m a very graceful and nimble human). Throughout the whole ordeal, I kept relatively high spirited, with my family motto of ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’ being my inner mantra, and me just realising that it was a fairly hilarious and dramatic story I could tell one day (not everyone can say they had to have mountain rescue called out while they were on Catholic retreat… #Wild). But what I found is that the pain on that mountain, and the fear and pain of that surgery were not the big hurdles I thought they would be, and actually, it’s the aftermath, the calm after the (literal) storm, that is so much more difficult to deal with. 

My doctor warned me that this process of healing would not only be a long physical journey, but also an emotional one, and they really weren’t wrong (I suppose 5 years in medical school does that to you). The last few weeks have really challenged me; stripping me of my independence, and in some ways, my sense of identity and purpose. 

For as long as I can remember, I have had a real heart for service. I remember being knee high and running into the living room with a tiny notebook and pen to take my nan and grandad’s ‘orders’ for the kitchen, playing waitress and cook, over-the-moon to give them whatever I could (imaginary or not). And as I grew up, this game turned into reality, with me taking on the new role of carer for my nan as she became less and less mobile, caring for her as she had always cared for me.

But this isn’t unusual or extraordinary, this is what all of us as Christian’s have been called to do; we have each been called to serve. Jesus led by example, showing us the way of true service, teaching each of us how to love one another selflessly and actively through everything we do. I grew up watching my family truly live by this example, and I think it was this witnessing of great service that shaped me into who I am.

So, what happens when we can’t serve as we once would? What happens when the server is suddenly the one in need of service? As I have found out recently, it doesn’t come as naturally to us all when the shoe is on the other foot (no pun intended), and we can begin to feel a little lost and purposeless when we’re no longer able to bend over backwards for those around us.  

Suddenly, I cannot serve as I always have. I can’t even serve myself, let alone those around me. Every part of my day takes so much more thought, and so much more effort. I can’t even shower (praise the Lord for good friends who will wash your hair in the sink, they’re the real keepers in this lifetime). I am having to learn a whole new basic day-to-day routine, and most of it includes a whole lot of help, which as blessed as I am to have, still feels uncomfortable and restrictive.

So why is it, as people who serve so freely and joyfully, we find it so hard to let others serve us? I have asked myself this so many times as I have sat stubbornly desperate for a drink but not wanting to bother my housemate to ask for a cup of tea, or sat for 20 minutes trying to do something that would have just taken a second if I had just asked my mum. 

This whole experience has been humbling and eye opening. Suddenly, I understand my nan in a way I never could when she was alive. I cared for her for so long, so eager to love her and repay her for the years of service she had given me as I grew up, but at times it felt as though I was helping someone who did not want to be helped, and it was difficult. It felt as though she was just being stubborn and hard work (which she sometimes was, qualities that some may say I have inherited…) But I now find myself saying (or maybe just thinking) the words she would once say to me, “I just want to do it for myself”, “this isn’t your job”, and the one that would sting the most, “let me have some dignity”.

But when I speak of dignity, what do I really mean? Recently, I was in a Chris Stefanick talk and he played a really beautiful video he made for his YouTube channel. The video is called ‘Death with Dignity’ and is a message written by his close friend, Liz, who suffered with terminal cancer. Now, I know that a broken ankle is not terminal, but the video really struck me because of Liz’s beautiful words about suffering in front of others, stating that dignity is not suffering in private, but instead, ‘dignity is love’. This spoke to me and made me realise that for me, I often got my pride confused with this idea of dignity, and I think maybe so did my nan. I think I often attach my dignity to tasks that I accomplish (whether they are for myself or for others), but this injury has completely challenged that. Am I undignified now that I rely on others? Am I less worthy? No, of course not. Dignity is love; I know how much love I felt for my nan and how much love I poured into every small act of service I could offer her. This knowledge reminds me that when I cannot do something and accept help from others, I am not any less dignified or valuable as a person, I am merely letting that person love me. When I feel uncomfortable or frustrated, that is not my dignity screaming out 'let me be free', it is my pride.

As much as we are called to serve, it is important to remember that we are not defined by what we can offer others; we are defined by our identity as sons and daughters of God, and how much we can or cannot do will not change that. For so long I have felt defined as ‘the girl who would do absolutely anything for anyone’, and the ‘nice girl’ in school and uni, (and I probably will revert to that, so someone please remind me of this blog when I am walking again). The word ‘no’ just did not exist in my vocabulary because if I say no, am I still ‘nice’? And if I’m not ‘nice’, then who am I? I realise now, my abilities do not define me or define my worth. Before I was even formed in the womb, God decided I was worth the life of His only Son. Before I took my first steps, Jesus decided I was worth the pain and humiliation of the cross. I cannot create or alter my worth, my worth is created by and dependent on God (who luckily for me is constant and unchanging).

Yes, we are all called to serve, but we are also called to rest in Christ. We can physically rest in Him when we, I don’t know, fall down a mountain…And we can also rest emotionally, injury or no injury, knowing that no matter what, He gave us an identity and worth that has no terms or conditions. Dignity is love, and He is love Himself, meaning that our dignity and our worth, they are found in Him and nothing less.

"Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the cross can man better understand how much he is worth."

 - St. Anthony of Padua

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