Unless I resist, I find myself leaning hard into the work that’s recognized. I prioritize what I think will garner applause and diminish the thankless tasks.
This is exactly why I chose “serve” as my word of the year. Two months in, and most my choices still serve my own desires and ambitions. And that’s okay with me.
I didn’t choose the word “serve” because I thought it would be easy, or because I thought I’d accomplish it in a year: a mountain climbed, a box checked.
No. Eventually, I’d like to be a person who thinks of others more than I think of myself, who does what’s needed without noticing who’s watching. All I’m hoping to do this year is take a few steps in the right direction.
My knee jerk reaction to “serve” is to make bold and uncomfortable and obviously sacrificial gestures, like giving my time to serve the homeless of my city or my money to charitable organizations.
While I believe in those causes, if I reduce “service” to something I do one weekend a month or a check I write, I miss opportunities to serve right under my nose.
When I think hard, I can remember half a dozen opportunities to serve people just this week. Opportunities that I missed.
The last thing I want is to get busy for good causes and neglect the people I’m already uniquely equipped to serve, to ignore the work in front of me in favor of something shinier and easier to quantify.
What I’m learning about service is that it’s always a sacrifice, but recognition isn’t always the reward. For a praise junkie like me, that’s tough news.
The phrase I keep coming back to so often that it’s become a sort of mantra is:
Do the eternal work.
What will stand when I am gone? What will I be proud of when I’m 70, whether anyone else ever knew about it? What will matter when the hay, stubble, and glitter of my life burns to ashes? What will rise above those ashes?
While I still cling to the idea that my life’s work will be something that wins awards or at least some pats on the back or gold stars, I’m warming up to a different idea.
What if our life’s work looks less like a Hollywood gold star, and more like sleepless nights singing in the ear of a feverish child?
What if it’s less striving, more surrender?
What if it’s less glitter, more sweat?
What if it’s less about bold speeches and more about the right words, whispered at the right time?
What if the some of the most life changing moments are also some of the hardest?
What if we make our life’s work while we’re aiming for the next thing, in the midst of the awkward conversations and self doubt and misunderstandings?
What if the moments we rush through are the ones we look back on in hushed awe, amazed at the work God was doing in us, without our even noticing?
These are my questions. The answer I keep giving myself is, don’t worry about who’s watching or what it means or what you’ll gain. Just do the eternal work.