What does it mean to serve?

Christ had a simple message for all of us:
‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.’ – John 13:34
Loving one another means wanting to make the lives of those we love better than they are today and wanting the very best for those around us. It means being willing to selflessly give of our gifts, time and talents to serve one another to see lives improved. By serving one another within our community – whether its our school community, our Parish community, the city, state or country in which we live – we help to improve upon the lives of those who are part of that community and, as such, improve the community as a whole. What ‘service’ means differs from person to person and is dependent on a number of factors.
The idea of ‘serving’ is one that can be uncomfortable to some in today’s world, as many believe that it requires us to be ‘subservient’ to others. Our desire to be leaders makes this a difficult concept. There are times in which our roles of service DO require us to be subservient but we are more often called to serve in ways that utilize the gifts and strengths given to us by God for the very purpose of sharing them with others. When we look at the idea of ‘serving’ as an act of love, we can see how serving others is already an everyday part of our lives and that the possibilities of expanding that act are limitless!
Our Director of Ministries, Jen Crowley recently posted the following to her ‘A Willing Witness’ blog:

Many folks think the Church wants them to volunteer in as many ministries as possible, spending all their free time up in their parishes, giving generously of themselves in every way.  As a matter of fact, that’s the opposite of what we want you to do!  While we want you to be good stewards of your time and talents and give of yourselves to your parish community, we also recognize that your most important ministry is at home — with your family.

How do we know where we can best be of service to others?
The most important thing is to discern where it is God wants us to be. We must be willing to serve God first and foremost, and we must trust in the path He sets forth for us. Often times we struggle with where we might like to be or think we are most needed and where God really wants us to be. Serving God means trusting God and while we may want to go out and serve the world by saving every single unborn baby around, God may have other plans for us. As the source of our gifts, talents and time He may see a *better* way for us to serve and knows where we can best be suited in His bigger plan for us and for those around us.
The most critical part of the discernment process is to pray. We can pray for clarity to help us identify that which God has given us and wants for us to share as well as for the opportunities in which we can best serve to become clear to us. Being willing to pray for clarity requires that we must also be willing to listen. God will always reveal Himself to us and answer our prayers if we are willing to open our eyes and minds, and most importantly – our hearts, to the message He is sending. For me personally, I find that there are things that stay on my heart or present themselves over and over and over again. Its taken me years and years to figure this out, but when this happens I know its God way of telling me that whatever it is its something to which I need to pay close attention. Sometimes the ‘listening’ comes in the form of an opportunity or person placed in my path, or even ‘that little voice’ in my head telling me something that I need to hear. I have learned to trust and be willing to listen to those messages especially when they have to do with something about which I have been praying.
How can we serve?
Part of the process of prayer is asking for God’s direction in where He sees us best able to give of ourselves. We can also look at our everyday actions in determining ways in which we can serve keeping in mind that giving doesn’t require being part of an ‘organized’ ministry. We may already be showing our love through service in ways that we haven’t yet realized!
As Ms. Crowley noted above, our families are our most important ministries. We often run on autopilot and overlook the needs of those closest to us. We can look around our home and ask ourselves some very simple questions about service in our homes. As a wife, do we love our husbands the way in which they need to be loved? Are we serving our marriage by giving it the importance and the time that it deserves? Serving our spouses can be as simple as putting the kids to bed and taking the time to sit down and talk together. If service is an act of love, then spending time together rather than turning on the TV or retreating to the Internet can be the simplest way to say ‘I love you’ and we serve one another.
Are we serving our children? Its hard, sometimes, NOT to feel as though we exist for the sole purpose of serving our children! Preparing three meals a day, doing laundry, doing homework, shuttling kids from activity to activity, making costumes for school plays – it really does feel like it never ends making it hard to even consider asking ourselves, ‘Even with all of that, are we still giving our children everything that they need?’. By ‘everything’ I mean that which they need to be loving members of their own communities. Do they feel loved and cherished? Do they know that we love them as the beautiful gifts of God that they are? Are we taking the time to spend a few minutes with them just ‘being’ and loving them in the way that they need to be loved?
If we move outside our homes, we have the opportunity to serve in many ways. We serve through organized ministries in our Parish such as the Alpha Prison Ministry, participating in Boy Scouts, participating in a Bible Study, singing in the Choir, Divine Mercy Prayer Group, Famalia, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and the list goes on and on. We also have the opportunity to serve our community outside of our Parish by running for public office, volunteering with the myriad of charities that exist, participating in trash clean up days, and in our schools we can be a member of our PTO, spend time being a cafeteria volunteer (I like to think of my time giving knives, forks, spoons and napkins, opening containers, cleaning up spilled drinks for 200+ children as penance!), help the teacher with prep work, or even chaperone a field trip. Sometimes time is not one of the many gifts we are given and we need instead to be limited to making a donation to help a not-for-profit financially.
Serving seems most obvious to us when we think of taking part in any of these organized activities or foundations, but we often forget that sometimes the most powerful and simple way of serving will cost us nothing but a few seconds of our time and a willingness to do so – a smile. A very well known fast food chain notes that ‘Smiles are free’. If we simply stop for a second or two and make the effort to smile at someone we are telling them that they matter. If its the fellow asking for change on the corner, we can roll down our windows, smile and say ‘God Bless You’. If its the cashier at the grocery store, we can smile and ask ‘How is your day going?’. As the recent Mobile Loaves and Fishes campaign reminds us with their ‘I Am Here’ campaign, serving others can be as simple as letting them know that you see them and KNOW that they are there. That can be the most significant act of caring and loving around – a profound, yet simple, act of service. 
If we are serving God by trusting Him and following His will, and we are selflessly serving each other in our families and throughout our communities, we become part of a community that gives of itself and enriches others through love and caring. It truly is better to give than to receive and by giving we are renewed. Just imagine, its the most renewable energy source possible and its created by God!

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