Monday, June 16, 2014

On Spiritual Gifts and Service (No Matter How Small)

By Alyx Koch
For many years, I have struggled with the concept of giving to others. 
University Life 21 by francisco_osorio, on Flickr
Not because I don’t want to or don’t think it’s important, but because a lot of the time I’m not sure how. Living with Cerebral Palsy, I tend to need help with physical tasks more often than most people. On top of that, my confidence frequently took a beating.  As I worked my way into my twenties, I began to wonder what my real purpose in life was, or even if I had one at all.

This questioning kicked into extreme overdrive when a friend from high school passed away one year ago. One of the most powerful things about his legacy was the way he extended kindness and generosity toward those that he interacted with. It made me think about not only what I might be remembered for once my time on earth is done, but also the ways that I can love and serve in this present life. 

However, such thoughts were less inspiring and more like running into a brick wall. 

I was constantly going over the things that I couldn’t do, like giving rides to church and running errands, or moving furniture or styling someone else’s hair for a special event. And then when I would try to focus on what I could do, I would only be met with, “Oh you don’t need to do that for me,” and, “That’s not necessary!”

A lot of it had to do with fear: fear of getting things thrown back in my face, of feeling like a failure, and yes, of being useless and not enough in the eyes of friends and family. But over the course of the last year, I’ve learned that the concept of giving and serving is not as complicated as people make it out to be.

It’s Different For Everyone

Each one of us was created in the image of God, but we were not all created to be carbon copies of one another. That being said, one person’s way of giving will not be the same as someone else’s (Romans 12:6-8). However, that does not mean that one particular spiritual gift, talent, etc. is better than the other, nor is it limited to home, church, work, and so on. I used to believe that in order to truly help people, I had to be physically active. If that wasn’t the case, I’d look back and the situation and feel bad. This began a cycle that left me feeling anxious and frustrated most of the time.

Yet, I see now that God also needs people to work behind the scenes (if you want to call it that), which equally requires just as much heart and willingness to give as anything else. I’ve realized that I have a deep passion for prayer, especially when it comes to praying on someone else’s behalf. Since sophomore year of college, I’ve made a point of taking the time to ask for prayer requests, whether it be by texting, Facebook, and so on.  This is when I see technology become a blessing because you can connect with people on a spiritual level by asking one simple question: "How can I pray for you?"

Then of course, there is writing; I say it like that because I’ve always been made aware of the fact that it is a gift, but I didn’t really know how to use it. It recently hit me how it’s not just about writing in and of itself, but also about how and when I use my words, and what message I’m hoping to spread through them. Supposedly actions speak louder than words, but they seem better off going hand-in-hand. Words are often what create and motivate action to take place. That’s why it’s so important to choose them carefully.

But not everyone does well with self-expression (be it verbal or otherwise) and that’s okay. Doing differently does not indicate a lacking, but a unique calling.

    Who is this Really About?

This is not easy to say, but in the past I admit that my desire to give stemmed from somewhat selfish motives. I didn’t out right demand or respect anything in return, but I also hungered for the satisfaction of being fully aware of exactly what that was. In other words, I believed that serving others in some way would ultimately make me happy, that it would fill me. The more I did and the more often I did it, the better I would feel.

But the reality is that service is not about you, or even the other person, for that matter.  It is about being an example of love and grace to others (1 Peter 4:10), which goes back to Jesus. 1 Corinthians 12 says that we are blessed with different ways of giving, but by the same Spirit (v. 7-11). So if we are first given these gifts by God, then the glory and recognition should ultimately go to Him. I’m not saying that you have to give an elaborate speech about your faith every time someone thanks you for doing something, but just keep your heart and mind in check.

Going off of that, giving consistently (whatever your gifts may be) is not going to fully satisfy you. Like most things of this world, it might do so momentarily, but not so much in the long run. Most likely there will come a time where circumstances force you to take a step back, whether you want to or not. You might become physically and emotionally exhausted at some point or experience some financial instability. You might realize that your life’s work isn’t what you actually thought it was supposed to be and that God is leading you in a different direction. 

The possibilities are endless, but my point is that, while helping people shouldn’t make you miserable, it’s not going to be what keeps you going each and every day. Only God can and will be able to do that.

Yet I understand the need, almost desperation to know that you’re not wasting your life. It’s hard not to feel that way when you’re the one doing the asking a lot of the time, or another is always offering. When I start to think that way, I remind myself that the greatest things we do for others or in general will often go unrecognized. It’s not due to a lack of gratitude or awareness, but the fact that we live in a culture where being vulnerable and/or emotional is looked down upon. Though I do my best to let my loved ones know that I’m grateful for them on a regular basis, I often wonder if I come across as being too sappy afterward. 

That being said, what you do for others is not without notice. If nothing else, God sees it and is smiling.

     Don’t Forget to Include Yourself

When someone puts a lot of time and effort into service and giving, their own needs tend to get lost in the shuffle. I don’t think it’s selfish to take a break or even say, “Not right now,” if you feel like you just can’t put your whole heart into it, for whatever reason. If you don’t take care of yourself at some point, how are you supposed to do the same for those around you? Even after creating the entire universe, God allowed Himself to rest. 

If you truly need something, there’s no shame in asking for it. I love hugging people because it’s a way for me to show that I care when I can’t think of what to say or don’t know how. But there are times where I need a hug as well. I’ve realized that it’s perfectly fine to pray for myself, or to ask for prayer in return.

On that note, it’s equally important (if not vital) to allow yourself to be blessed, because that’s what real community is. Letting other people love you and take care of you is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and courage. It gives you the ability to acknowledge that you cannot do it on your own and that God has put certain people in your life for a reason. 

And it doesn’t have to be a huge: if someone offers to treat you to lunch or coffee, let them. If a trustworthy friend asks you how you’re really doing, tell them the truth. And if you’re afraid of doing these things because you feel like you’re going to owe them down the road, than maybe you need to take a look at your heart. Relationships are not about keeping score of the good things and keeping a track record of the bad things. This is a common pattern to slip into, but it’s not a healthy one at all.

Putting all of this into practice is challenging. I have to remind myself (sometimes on a daily basis) that my self-worth is not measured by what I can and cannot do. That God will not love me any less because of what He purposefully chose to equip me with. When you think you’re not doing enough for someone, chances are you’re doing more than you realize. However, you may never know on this side of heaven, and that’s okay.

If you genuinely feel stuck, mentally beating yourself over the head is not going to do any good. Pray about it. Talk to people that can give you genuine and honest feedback. 

It’s not a matter of whether or not you have a gift, but a matter of whether you’re willing to embrace it and do what you’ve been called to do.

Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the courage to write this post; it’s something that I’ve been struggling with for a long time, yet I know that I probably am not the only one who battles with putting my identity in what I can do and what I can give. Help each and every person reading this to realize that no act of kindness is too small, and that even sharing the simplest aspect of our lives can make a world of difference. May we be filled with a sense of awareness and gratitude for the ways that we can demonstrate acts of service. But more than that, help us to understand that such gifts are not for the sake of personal recognition or competition, but to be a light to others and bring glory to You alone. 

In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Photo courtesy of Francisco Osorio.

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