Posts tagged: service

Service and Meaning

Let’s look at another path to Joy.

Viktor Frankl writes in Man’s Ultimate Search for Meaning that we all search to bring meaning to our lives. Some achieve it through doing or creating: an act of heroism, a painting, a garden, or a novel. Some discover meaning through relationships, by loving deeply and well. But most rewarding according to Frankl are those who, facing the unchangeable like suffering or pain, change themselves for the better.

Author Matthew Kelly writes in his book,  A Call to Joy, “Suffering puts us in touch with what is really important. Sacrifice spells out our commitment and confirms our love.”

Frankl says of a person who grows through life’s challenges, “He is actualizing himself precisely to the extent to which he is forgetting himself, and he is forgetting himself by giving himself, be it through serving a cause higher than himself, or loving a person other than himself.”

Jesuit priest Fr. Robert Spitzer speaks about  four levels of happiness.

  1. Satisfaction of the senses, the moments when we are enjoying tastes, sounds, aromas, sights or sensations. It is a low level, because it is transitory and self-focused.
  2. Comparative advantage – you feel better than another. Competitors understand this elusive happiness.
  3. Seeing good in others and doing good for others.
  4. A reach for fullness or perfection through the pursuit of goodness, beauty, truth and love.

“We get glimpses of the sublime nature of beauty, truth and goodness at rare moments in, perhaps, the arts (music, story, film) or nature, or when we are loved by or love others.’  But for lasting happiness of this level Spitzer says, “Only God in Jesus is perfect and, according to Christians, our ultimate happiness is found in relationship with God through Jesus (prayer, obedience to his teachings etc.) who overcame sin (separation from God).”

Frankl, Kelly, and Spitzer concur that one way to truly feel you are making a difference is by being of service to others. I watch the generation above mine and am humbled by their acts of service. My mother is approaching a major milestone birthday (beyond typical retirement age) and still is secretary for several organizations and serves her parish daily. My husband’s parents have also lived lives of service, from St. Vincent de Paul to Scouts, from backstage management to helping children with reading difficulties.

That’s fine, we might say, for people who are retired and have time, but how can I possibly add one more thing to my busy life?

They started early. Their retirement years are simply continuations of earlier years of service.

However, service doesn’t have to be a large commitment of time. In fact, you are probably already of service and just haven’t realized it. Every parent serves the needs of little ones. And every adult child can help her parents or his siblings. Beyond family, you might take a friend out for coffee, knowing they needed a chance to talk, or watch your neighbor’s children while she goes to a doctor appointment. Look at all the small services you do for people, and acknowledge the spirit of service within you. Focusing on that spirit, rather than feeling taken for granted, can shift our attitude and put us solidly on the road to Joy.

Remember that old bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty?” It only takes a minute to get a second cup of coffee to share. Or to put away laundry for someone who needs to study for a final. Or to take on a task for a coworker who is swamped. Share small moments of your time if you can’t spend a weekly evening or Saturday helping out.

Of course, there are many opportunities for more formal service to the wider community. Short term commitments offer us a chance to experiment with using different skills and might even help us determine a new direction in our lives. You could discover a talent at carpentry while working for Habitat for Humanity. You might find you are a natural with teenagers or coordinating groups or understanding spreadsheets. Or maybe you will reconnect with old talents that have gone rusty by helping with a school play or teaching Girl Scouts about vegetable gardens. If you have no idea what a new interest might be, or how you best can serve, these short term commitments can be invaluable experience.

Perhaps, though, you are seeking a long term direction for service. If you are looking for a vocation, whether through a career or apart from the work you do, I recommend you take the advice of Parker Palmer in The Heart of a Teacher,

“When I follow only the oughts, I may find myself doing work that is ethically laudable but not mine to do. A vocation that is not mine, no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self—in the precise sense that it violates my identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm. […] In contrast to the strained and even violent concept of vocation as an ought, Frederick Buechner offers a more generous and humane image of vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ […] The best inward sign of vocation is deep gladness. ”

Matthew Kelly agrees.  “In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the world, there is a whisper in the marketplace. The whisper is the voice of God. He is calling to you. He is beckoning to you. He is gently inviting you to a quiet place, and His call is a call to joy.

May you hear His call and follow it to your joy!

Betty Arrigotti

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