Somewhere between Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List and David Platt’s Radical is my life, a comfortable mix of service and pleasure. To label most of my thoughts as selfish is not accurate, of course, nor is it correct to call them altruistic. But when I woke up to pictures of the devastation in the South and a minute later was fuming over spoiled milk in my fridge and how I’d have to skip breakfast, I had to wonder which side held the edge.
As tornadoes ripped through six states, I responded to the news with an immediate, fleeting desire to go down there and do something. Help in some way. I felt the same upon witnessing footage of the tsunami. Do something. But Japan was different. I could quickly discount my physical ability to assist based on distance. There was an ocean between myself and those in need, after all. Plus I didn’t have the money. What use would I be anyway? I’m sure there are plenty of people to help. And that’s true. But the distance excuse doesn’t jive so well when the epicenter is Alabama. This happened at home.
Too often I put the idea of serving within a box: an organized event planned in advance at a food bank from 12-3 on a Saturday afternoon with friends. Then it’s out of sight, out of mind as we find a good place for dinner after our good deed. Easy enough. I cannot, however, wrap my head around the utter confusion of walking onto a scene with no entry or exit point, no station to pick up latex gloves and a hairnet, no video orientation or rock music to get me pumped. That isn’t a fun way to serve.
Admittedly, I tend to avoid service opportunities that may turn messy and have no clear resolution, simply because I don’t feel a satisfaction when I’m “done.” For instance, I remember watching a shoeless man shuffle slowly by a restaurant where I once worked as a waiter. There were no customers, nothing to tend to but by own thoughts as I stared at this man’s swollen foot and strained advance. I never ventured out to see if he needed assistance. Instead, my mind went immediately to my own concerns and judgment: If I helped him, how far would we have to walk before we were done? Just to the next block? He’s probably going to that liquor store.
Rather than wondering when my job is done, I should be asking: When can I start? I liken my reluctance somewhat to that of Ananias when God told him to seek out Saul in Damascus (Acts 9); I’ve heard the reports and have a great excuse why I shouldn’t go. But Christ tells me to anyway, for the least of these, as I would for Him. And I’m learning to do just that.