It’s been 3 months since I left Cambodia and the experience is slowly moving from feeling like a dream to a reality of my past. Today is a holiday in the US honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. People are encouraged to give a day of service to honor the work he did, the life he lived and what he stood for. Like many people he has long been an example of what a true servant leader is for me. He lived a powerful, but short, life. He was a great man. And he was a great leader. But he didn’t plan his life with that intention. His goal was to be a servant. I once read he became a minister to serve humanity. He became a leader because he stepped in where he saw a need. He became a leader because his heart grieved for the injustice he saw and he gave all of himself to serve those suffering. The past few days I’ve been reflecting on how I served in Cambodia. To be honest I don’t look back with pride. I was brought to tears thinking of all the things I would have done differently. My deep sense of self preservation and survival caused me to serve selfishly. Too many times I was more concerned about my comfort than really connecting to those I was serving. Too many times I was too self-involved with the problems of my life, the struggles I was feeling, and the hurts of my past to give my heart to those I was serving. I gave my skills. I gave my knowledge. I gave my time. But my heart I reserved for myself. How do you really serve those you don’t give compassion and love to? You don’t. That’s how.
Too often I see people volunteer because it’s part of their social circle; it makes them feel good about themselves; it gives them something to do; it makes other people think they’re good people; it appeases their guilt of “having too much.” I see these people and roll my eyes. I get angry. I judge them for seeing themselves as above the people they’re serving. I resent them for patting themselves on the back more than really wanting to be part of bettering a big picture. But how was I any different? In the end it’s serving from the heart as opposed to anything else that matters.
When I donate clothes and give something old and crummy as opposed to something nice and still wearable that I like, is a perfect and simple example. The choice to give one over the other is wanting someone to have something nice, as opposed to my leftovers. When I donate only when I can get a receipt for my taxes, I’m still concerned with myself first. When I’m not willing to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable to help someone, then I am still the one I care for more. I am not ok with this. As I reflect on Cambodia and other times I see a lot of things I want to change in the way I serve others and care for people. I may not be a fulltime volunteer in Cambodia anymore, but there are people all around me I can care for and serve. There are plenty of issues I want to help address.
As the holiday comes to an end, I ask if you want to challenge the way you serve and help those around you as well? After all, in the words of Dr. King “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ “