A few months ago, I volunteered to be head of a volunteer committee at work. My bosses put a great emphasis on giving back to the community, so they have an annual community service project we participate in as a company. This year, I did some research and discovered a place called Cafe 458 in downtown Atlanta - a cafe-style restaurant that serves free meals to the homeless with the respect they deserve. It was a neat opportunity and I'm glad we got to go. However, it got me thinking about what service means, and why we even bother to do it.
When I was in high school, NHS (National Honor Society) was a really big deal. They only let a select group of about 10-12 people (out of 400 in the school) into NHS each year. Throughout the year, we did a lot together - retreats, fund raisers, community service projects, etc. Some of my best high school memories were from the 2 years I was involved in NHS.
I remember we were in the midst of planning the induction ceremony at the beginning of my senior year. It was always a big deal - a school-wide assembly/ceremony, with the top-secret new members being announced. We usually had members of NHS each do a speech, and at the time they were looking for a fourth person to do a speech on "service". For some reason, I raised my hand and volunteered.
I was really nervous, and spent a long time preparing for it. Afterwards, a lot of people came up and complimented me. I was glad that I had taken the opportunity to do it, and I am thankful to God that He gave me all the right words to say!
Below is a copy of my speech that I gave that day in September of 2000. (Notice some concepts taken straight from the Bible!)
The candle I just lit represents service.
When I sat down to write this speech, I started really asking myself, “What is service?” I knew I wanted to say something along the lines of service not being just going to Community Service. But I really didn’t know how to say that.
So I enlisted the help of some friends, posing two questions. One: “Is service about attitude or action?”
Mother Teresa once said, “It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into the doing.” Service is stereotypically about heroically donating your time to be with a poor person dying in the hospital. Yet, if that’s the attitude you have, then is that really service?
Service should be a sacrifice, not an obligation or something that looks good on your transcript. Service is looking to the interest of others. It’s a willingness to do your best. It’s perseverance; pushing on even when it might be easier to quit.
The second question I had was: “Is service for yourself or others?” This is a bit more difficult, because it is hard to distinguish who benefits more, the giver or the receiver. For, as someone once said, “You can’t help someone up the hill without getting closer to the top yourself.”
We should do nothing out of selfish ambition, but in humility consider others better than ourselves. Humility goes along with attitude- being humble about the time and money you spend helping others. Mother Teresa tells us, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”
Service shouldn’t have expectations. If you anticipate something in return for every hour you spend helping someone else, then it isn’t really service. It’s a business deal. Service results from an honest feeling of compassion and a desire to help others.
The best thing about service is that it can be demonstrated in almost any situation. A lot of people think that service is only visiting orphanages or organizing fundraisers. Many overlook the small, unnoticeable aspects. Being there for someone who needs a friend. Helping a new student find a class. Brushing off a little boy who fell on the sidewalk. All of these are good examples of service. Putting a smile on someone’s face can be just as important as donating $1000 to charity.
So why is service so important? It’s something that everyone can do. You don’t have to have high grades or show strong leadership skills or have outstanding character to help someone. Because, in the end, everyone involved is affected.