Are you being served?

footwashing“Oh no, no.  I can get it.  I don’t need to be waited on!”

Have you ever said these words?

If so, I invite you to ask yourself why.

Your answer might purport to have something to do with humility, or not placing yourself above another.

May I challenge you on that?

The experience of being served by a friend, a colleague, or a “superior” can be very humbling indeed.  But that which we call “humility” in Self—is often pride. 

Consider the scene of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples (John 13).  Theologians and scholars have made thorough and smart attempts to unpack the scene.  What emerges for me is not a political notion of equality, nor a sense of a grand gesture from the Almighty to the mortal—but rather a Divine example of the beauty of service.

There’s nothing I like more (and I believe I mean that phrase literally) than to host a dinner party.  I scrounge through my cupboards, look for coupons, and I make a dash to the thrift store or village market in search of that one small detail that will make the evening perfect.  I set a table, light some candles, play some music—and then I receive my guests, my kids, my colleagues—whomever.

And I encourage them to sit as I finish preparations—and serve.

I equally enjoy being treated to dinner at a restaurant or at a friend’s home.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  But when a friend chooses to serve me, I don’t object.

I receive.

My mom taught me this principle.  And my Ugandan friends fully believe in caring for each other, gracefully serving each other—and receiving from each other.  In Uganda, all food and drink items are presented covered, and on a tray (or on whatever humble object most resembles a tray when one isn’t available).  My friends are entirely present with the notion of our interconnectedness.

And they receive with equal grace.

In one of my earliest days of graduate school, I was at a university cocktail party.  There were mountains of food on grand trays, but no servers.  Mingling elsewhere in the room was a friend who I knew had not eaten anything the whole day.  Without thinking about it, I picked up one of the trays, and made my way through the crowd.  Napkins in one hand and this great tray in the other, I offered my friend and her guests a nosh.

As I made my way back to the buffet, I noticed some sideways glances from colleagues.  I then realized that perhaps they presumed, since my friend is a VIP, that I was kissing up.  I started to explain, but then I shrugged it off—and wrapped myself in that warm feeling of service—one to another.

Service doesn’t have to be an indicator of stature; rather it can be a revelation of the spiritual in the language of the human.

The next time you have the chance to serve, do so—regardless of what people might think.

And the next time you are served, don’t resist.  Receive.

5 comments for “Are you being served?

  1. Carla Heinecke, M.Ed.
    December 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Thinking of how you waited/served a group of ladies as our week-long host for your mother’s 60th birthday on St. Croix Island, I can attest to the manner in which you serve. You make others feel like royalty! I am glad you didn’t try to explain your “Host Instinct” to those who have never tried it! Thanks for connecting this with the spiritual aspect which is what Jesus taught us to serve first, don’t even ask!

    On the other hand, it is often hard to sit and receive when I would rather be the giver than the taker. Kenyans taught me how to relax and enjoy being served when I wanted to “help”. It is a giver instinct but it also felt “good to the bone!” to sit and appreciate. Instead of telling me thank-you, they often just say to words, “I appreciate”. Isn’t that a grand way to say, “Thanks!”

    Keep writing. You inspire me and MANY!

    • December 30, 2012 at 3:08 am

      Hello from London, Tia. Yes, Ugandans say the same. In Luganda, it is “Nsiimia nnyo.” Meaning, “I appreciate very much.” What I really like is the reply: “Webale kusima.” Meaning, “Thank you for appreciating.” It’s a gratitude chain. Blessings, –N

      • Carla Heinecke, M.Ed.
        December 30, 2012 at 7:55 am

        I am going to ask how to say it in Kiswahili, but I think it has the word Sante sana. I may be wrong. I love how you wrote about a chain blessing back and forth. I want you to know I appreciate you very much, not just for your “work’s sake”, ministry-wise, but because you press on. May you be more blessed, more anointed, more in love with Jesus and more fulfilled at the end of the year than you can imagine right at this moment in time. I am praying these things for you!


  2. December 30, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I cherished this article. Having been a guest at your home, I know how lovely the experience of sitting down for a meal with a good friend. It is unfortunate that gifting through an action of service could be so misinterpreted in American culture. As you noted, vulnerability is not only in the giving but also in the humility of receiving. I have said before, “The gift of lack is kindness.” The divine in his loving wisdom will allow us lack so that we may receive the kindness of others. As noted in scripture, both giving and receiving are acts of love and kindness, “1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

    • December 31, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Tiki, Hello from Uganda! Thanks for these notes. I am pleased that my thoughts resonated. You have such a giving heart. Blessings, –N

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