First, I apologize for my mini hiatus over the past two weeks. I promise it was all worth it though- I can’t wait to share what I’ve been up to and what I’ve learned! That post is live! Read it here.
This spring break, I participated in another alternative service break trip through my university. We flew out to California to work with the nonprofit GRID Alternatives to install solar panels in underserved communities as well as integrate ourselves in the culture of the San Francisco Bay area.
As I sat in my room on my first night back in North Carolina after a whirlwind of a week, I started to think back on a piece my team leader (shout-out to Kara <3 ) read to us on our service break the year before to rural Appalachia West Virginia. It discusses the difference between helping, fixing, and serving (you can read the original here) and it really opened my eyes to how big of an impact these three seemingly interchangeable words actually have on people. The fact that this has somehow been out of my mind all year only to surface once again at this time in my life has caused the message to hit me extra hard. Maybe I just needed to experience some of the same reflection points a second time. Maybe I just needed to add 11 more people to my ASB family. Maybe I just needed to put myself out there a little more- what better way to do that than by flying across the country and working on top of a house?
Regardless of why I ran back to this message, I ran back to it. I had a minor epiphany ( 😉 ) one night, put off all of my homework, and read this piece over and over again. It’s so important to recognize the differences present in what we do, why we do it, and how it affects other people. You don’t have to have been on a long mission trip or anything to have a service experience to reflect back on. There are some awesome examples in many careers- two are detailed in the original reading linked above. Can you tell I really want you to go read it? Don’t worry, my TL;DR version is below 🙂
When we fix something, the general idea is based around the fact that that something (or someone) is broken. We see it as useless, worthless, and past its time. We question whether it’s even worth the energy to try and put back together. By fixing something, we are led to feel needed and powerful. We see that we have filled some void without ever giving thought as to whether that hole truly needed to be filled.
When we help people, the situation is one of inequality. It’s an uneven relationship where one party sees the other as weak and incapable of doing anything for themselves. We see ourselves as superheroes swooping in to save the day. In our inadvertent condescension, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re such great people when, in reality, our reasons for helping are extremely selfish.
When we serve others, however, we tap into what it means to be human. We don’t show off our strength or pride ourselves in using our privileges or abilities at the emotional and/or mental expense of others. We don’t focus on our own benefit of what we can write on our resume, post on social media, or feel godly about later. Serving is about connection. It’s about personal awareness, appreciation for life as a whole, and the recognition that everything and everyone is beautiful.
We will grow tired of fixing.
Helping will eventually wear us out.
Serving is a rejuvenation of spirit. It’s not just satisfaction of a “job well done,” but graciousness for a shared experience. You don’t just go through the motions of a task and you don’t solely tolerate who you’re doing that task with (or for). Instead, you base what you do around who you’re interacting with. Who you’re truly interacting with, not what you see on the surface or who society makes someone out to be. You focus on the deeper connection, the almost other-worldly bond between you. It’s a manifestation of the words of Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When we help or fix, we degrade. We knock down someone else’s self-esteem and sense of completeness of self. We convey the thought that they are insufficient, that they are nothing without us and what we’ve done for them.
Conversely, when we serve others, we share the same experiences. We share the same pain and the same joys, the same losses and the same worth. We suffer together, we work together, we cry together, and we laugh together. We have a mutual awareness of being that’s absolutely magnetic. We don’t leave someone feeling indebted to us like we do when we help because, when we serve, we receive just as much healing as we give.
Serving leaves you with an immense feeling of gratitude. After both of my ASB trips, I left each community feeling completely humbled and full of takeaways from every single person we encountered. Those communities opened themselves up to us; they bared all and they were not ashamed. We saw incredible appreciation and raw generosity. We experienced communication without saying a single word. We could look into someone’s eyes and an entire sequence of understanding could pass between us in a matter of seconds.
The areas we served in both West Virginia and California were very different, but both left such a sense of wholeness, grace, and awe.
“Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.” -Rachel Naomi Remen
There is a judgemental connotation associated with fixing and helping that creates a noticeable distance between the parties involved. Serving can’t take place at a distance. It requires you to really get into what you’re doing. You have to throw yourself into it, you have to fully and wholeheartedly trust, believe, and love.
“We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch. This is Mother Teresa’s basic message. We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.” – source
Once you see this holiness of life, you won’t have to think about serving. It will emerge naturally from within you, leading you to take part in one of life’s greatest mysteries of human existence. Serving doesn’t strip away someone’s humanity like helping or fixing. After all, we really aren’t that different in the grand scheme of things. Service is not an outlet for expertise, but rather an outlet for the soul. It’s a larger-than-life aspect of some of the smallest things in existence.
We serve because we see the light, the life, and the wholeness of each other. We interact with it. We encourage it, strengthen it, and remember it. It’s a feeling that’s so immense it’s almost incomprehensible. It’s hard to describe but it will without a doubt change your life for the better. You understand the importance of slowing down and appreciating life, of choosing joy.
So. Instead of asking how you can help, discuss how you can serve. In adopting this minor difference in thought, you will witness a huge difference in mindset; your understanding of what it means to be human will completely blow you away.
~How have you seen the difference between fixing, helping, and serving in your own life?