When Serving Gets in the Way of Serving

I remember a friend of mine told me a story once.

When I saw her she was really upset.

Being the kind, sensitive guy that I was, I said:

"What's your problem?"

She explained that, at her work, there were certain tasks that most people didn't enjoy doing. Since no one wanted to do it, her employer set up a rotation so that everyone had to do it, once a week.

On this particular day, my friend wanted to do something nice for one of her co-workers. So she volunteered to perform the undesirable task when it was her co-worker's turn.

"That's great," I said. "So why are you upset?"

"Well," says my friend, "He didn't even say 'thank you.'"

I thought about this for a second. I knew how that felt: to give to someone who didn't appreciate it. I could totally empathize. And I probably should have just nodded my head and said something like, "That must be really tough. I'm really sorry."

That's what I should have said.

That's probably what I would have wanted said to me. It's probably what, years later, my wife would have wanted me to say if she were telling me the same story.

I know this now. But this was a long time ago.

"I'm confused," I said. "Did you help him to be kind or did you help him to be thanked?"

She blinked at me.

I discovered later that this had never crossed her mind: the possibility that we serve sometimes not to give but to get.

Now, I hear sometimes people say that it's impossible to be selfless because if you get something out of giving then it becomes selfish. I'm not sure what making that particular point is supposed to prove, but I do know that there's a huge difference between giving and expecting something in return and giving something and expecting nothing in return.

And I know that when you expect something in return-- when there are strings attached to love--it actually ruins the fun of giving for everyone involved.

For me, being married has provided lots of opportunities for me to give without expecting anything in return.

Granted, I never take any of those opportunities...

But all joking aside, there is something incredibly refreshing (and unfortunately rare) when you decide in your mind that you're going to do something that you know someone else will benefit from without them ever knowing, or at the very least without expecting (or needing) any kind of reciprocity.

I've also noticed that the human spirit doesn't naturally drift into free acts of charity. It actually takes intentional choices to move us not only into the path of generosity, but of string-less generosity-- where we can walk away not needing anything in return.

It's not easy, but it's healthy. It's not natural, but it's good. So let's cut the strings, and what we'll realize is that those strings were holding us captive as well.

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