Monday, April 27, 2015

Are We Better When We're Serving?

Last weekend we had the privilege of caring for two foster children ages one and two. 
It wasn’t our first time doing foster care, but it was our first in quite a while. 
Before we committed to an overnight placement, Kurt and I wanted to make sure the whole family was in. “If we are going to do this,” I said, “Then we are going to serve these little ones as a family.” 
Everyone agreed, but we didn’t give much thought to the implications of prioritizing others. (No, we’re not having friends over. No, you can’t turn on the TV while they’re napping.)
When the little ones arrived we were giggly over their tiny words, chunky hands, and quick smiles. I encouraged the boys to be calm and not over eager with all manner of baby toys which they’d dredged up from the depths of the toy box. And with a little coaxing, they warmed up to us fairly well. 

Over the next 24 hours I saw my boys reading books to them, letting the toddler direct the page turning. Together they facilitated the mass collection of pinecones. Inside the house, one of them cut up bananas on the high chair tray. And though I can still hardly believe it, they cooked lunch on Saturday while I was outside strolling a fussy one. What was on the menu, you ask? Well, we had no macaroni noodles, so it was spaghetti and cheese…with oranges on the side. It was a hit. Kraft ought to be taking notes.
The regular sibling bickering was replaced by kind questions: Do you want an orange? Can I peel it for you? Do you like bananas? Can I pass out more goldfish? Which book do you want? Did you find a pinecone?
Even my parental barking was muzzled and I calmly asked, Can you help with her shoes? Will you carry him while I switch the laundry? Will you fill a sippy cup?
And it was all so blissful that I thought, “Wow. We are better when we’re serving.” 
And then the little ones went back home. 
We woke Sunday morning and the bickering and barking erupted with volcano-like force. It was like a painful episode of Supernanny, only Nanny Jo Frost must have missed her connecting flight from England, and we had to slog though it on our own. 
And I found out we aren’t all better.
I’ve been trying to make some profound biblical application, but I’ve only been able to list four things I know for certain:

·  We are all insufferably bent toward selfishness. Apparently we can only “deny ourselves” for so long. In this case, about 12 waking hours.
·  Serving in this capacity changes us temporarily and externally: We temporarily practiced how Christ wants us to live—preferring others, speaking kindly, and giving generously. According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything. On the bright side, we’re down to 9,988! To put it bluntly, we need more practice so the changes become more than temporary and sporadic.
·  Serving others has changed us permanently and internally: Our boys know there are children living in constant transition and “warming up” mode because decisions have been made for them that have ongoing consequence. And I could write a book about ways God has changed my heart through foster care. Suffice it to say I sometimes wonder if service to “the least of these” (as Jesus referred to the needy in Matthew 25:40) is more about changing my heart than changing their circumstances. Thankfully, God’s mercy and grace can accomplish both.
·  There are alternating seasons for intense service and rest. This is not to say I retreat to my hovel of self-indulgence. But certainly there are good reasons to rest between intense seasons of service. Jesus did. He slept on a boat ride, retreated to a mountain to pray, and allowed angels to minister to Him. Who are we to think we need less?

So I guess I’m not sure if we’re really better when we’re serving. But I know this for sure, Christ can change us when we do.

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