I spent many years during my twenties and thirties being an activist for a variety of causes. During this time, I would work my regular 40 hour a week job and then volunteer another 20 or so hours.
I loved doing much of the work for it felt good to be around other passionate people who cared for many of the causes I did. I also loved having a sense that I was helping change the world in many positive ways!
By the time I reached my early thirties, however, I began to hit a brick wall. The years of working so many hours had begun to take a toll. I was also losing some of my optimism when it came to having a sense that I was making a difference in the world. I also started developing a HUGE martyr complex (i.e. "Why don't others CARE about the issues as much as I do, and why don't they DO as much as I do? I guess I'll just have to work harder to pick up their slack"). Let's just say, by the time I reached 32 it wasn't a pretty picture.
So what happened? How did a well-intentioned person get so far off course in his desire to make a difference?
I can't answer for everyone who has been in that position, but I can answer for myself. A part of that answer can be found in today's reading from 3 John 1. In observing the community, John wrote: "Dear friend, when you extend hospitality to Christian brothers and sisters, even when they are strangers, you make the faith visible. They've made a full report back to the church here, a message about your love."
I love the connection John made in that first sentence– the one where he connected their acts of service to their faith. That's what I was missing when I was doing my work in my twenties and thirties. When I did those acts of service, my actions were motivated primarily by my desire to impose my values and perceptions of how the world should be onto others. In other words, my acts of service were all too often driven by my need to control others. It's not surprising that I eventually became angry and bitter when others resisted my efforts to control.
In the middle and latter part of my thirties, I began to make a shift in the ways I engaged in acts of service. I began to think of my acts of service much differently. I began to see them as a natural expression of my faith. Over time those acts of service became less about my desire for control and more about something else: love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. That shift has helped increase and sustain my desire to give something back to the world.
So how about you? What motivates your acts of service?
Til next time …