For as long as I have been of working age, I have worked some sort of retail or costumer service job. Anyone who has started out working in the costumer service industry, which many of us do when we start working, will be very familiar with some variation of the phrase, “Can I help you?” It’s probably the most commonly said and heard line in every costumer service interaction. Call the cable company and someone answers with, “Can I help you?” The person stocking the shelves at the grocery says, “Can I help you with anything today?” The woman working the desk at the DMV says, “Can I help whoever is next in line?” Little kids playing pretend say it because they have heard it all their lives from the time their mothers carried them from errand to errand in their car seats. There is no one who hasn’t heard these words and understood their meaning.
Lately however, they seem to come with an implied meaning; an unspoken but universally understood limitation on just how far a person will go to really help another person. “Can I help you?” doesn’t really mean, “I will help you in anyway I can in order to make sure you are happy and satisfied.” Really what it means is, “What do you need me to do for you so that you will leave me alone quickly and let me get back to my more important business?” This may seem harsh, but it’s the truth. There is a time limit on people’s patience nowadays, we only help others to a certain extent, and then if we have nothing to gain from the interaction, we find some reason to end the conversation.
Did you catch that?
If we have nothing to gain from a person, if our willingness to help does not immediately translate into some sort of personal gratification, we end the interaction and move on to the next in search of some sort of satisfaction.
Our interactions have become transactions.
It’s bad enough that we treat relative strangers like in passing, but what happens when we treat our spouses, friends, and family like this every day? It may seem like a ludicrous question, but there is truth behind it. So often I have observed myself and others committing the sin of selfishly using someone they are close to in order to advance their wants, needs, and desires. We do it without even thinking.
When hubby calls from work to let us know he is on our way home and we ask, “How did your day go?” what we are really saying is somewhere along the lines of, “Please tell me how your day went in a span of 10 seconds or less so that I can get to telling you about how so and so hurt my feelings, how the kids were naughty, how bad of a headache I have, or how the neighbor and her husband are getting a divorce because her husband cheated on her with his secretary.” When we have coffee with a friend we spend the time thinking more about what we want to say next than focusing on what they are saying, or being concerned with their feelings or challenges they might be facing. Friends that don’t indulge our selfishness don’t stay friends with us for very long. When our children wake up in the morning we are happy to see their little faces, as long as they behave and don’t make demands of us and don’t disrupt the peaceful flow of our morning routines with their naughty childish antics.
Is this harsh? Maybe. But is it true? Sadly, yes.
I have to admit, painfully, that this is true in my life more often than I am fully comfortable admitting. I have to pray multiple times a day for the patience and grace to serve my husband and my children without copping a nasty attitude because I am just plain tired and I don’t want to wash any more clothes or make one more meal. I struggle daily to remember that in order for my marriage to work I have to be willing to selflessly serve my husband.
When I ask him, “what can I do for you?” it needs to translate into, “How can I serve YOU?”
When I ask my daughter what she needs, it really has to mean, “How can I serve YOU?”
When I spend time with my closest friends and family my approach to the interactions needs to be, “How can I serve YOU?”
This is a tough pill to swallow. But if we think about it, really think about it’s context and application, we will begin to see the truth. As humans we are hard pressed to find many examples or people, living or dead, who selflessly served others with no regard to their own wants or desires. As wives we remember our mothers, as wonderful as they are, getting frustrated time after time because their husbands and children just wouldn’t do what was asked of them. As a society, we hear day after day that if someone does not bring something to the table in a relationship, if they can’t make us rich, or happy, or share our responsibilities, then we aren’t obligated to remain in relationship with them.
So how are we supposed to know how to serve others? Who can we look to for insight on this seemingly impossible endeavor? Who can possibly provide us with the example we need?
The answer seems obvious: Jesus. Duh! Who doesn’t know that?
We all know it, but the knowledge doesn’t always translate into a deeper understanding. Because for many of us, myself included, we are also guilty of looking at our relationships with Christ the same way. What can He do for us? What do we gain by accepting Him into our lives? We let this mentality color our response to our Savior so much so that it permeates into every other area of our lives. When we ask God, “What can I do for you?” we are guilty of putting conditions on our willingness to serve Him before we expect something in return.
We miss the daily miracle of our salvation. That Christ came and died for us. For us. Without any thought to what we could offer Him in return. He makes no demands of us except that we be grateful for His freely given gift. We can do nothing to earn it, nothing to deserve it, and nothing to lose it. He is the groom, we are His bride, and this marriage is completely one sided because no matter what we do, we can never give as selflessly, as perfectly as He does. But He doesn’t ever make selfish demands of us. He does everything for our good.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our earthly marriages looked like this? If we simply served our husbands and wives with the attitude of selflessness and the mentality that no matter what they can’t do for us, we will love them anyway? What if we could divorce our expectations from our willingness to serve each other instead of divorcing each other when our expectations aren’t met?
My prayer for my marriage, as well as for my interactions with family, friends, and perfect strangers, is that I would be able to look past my own selfishness and say truly, honestly, and graciously, “How can I serve YOU?” My prayer is that I would not miss the daily miracle of my salvation by being wrapped up in the idea of what Jesus can do for me. My prayer is that my meaningful act of worship would be the simple willingness to serve Him and others with no regard for myself. To follow His example, to have a marriage that resembles His relationship with His church. To resemble Him more and more each day.