BY CARRIE NANTAIS | April 13, 2017

I am among you as the one who serves…

Luke 22: 26-27

He said to them, “Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.  For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves.”

I do not like change or the challenges that come with it.

It has been hard to adjust to so many things as a mother, but one of the things that I still struggle with the most is my lack of service engagement.  (My husband might also say my lack of sleep but that’s not a pillar during this liturgical season!)  

Since we are in the midst of the Lenten season, when almsgiving and service help us refocus on God, I know I’m missing the mark. I so easily used to participate in service opportunities through social justice work but now, with young children, I haven’t figured out what works for me AND them.

Part of this is because the options that were once easy and numerous are no longer possible when young children are involved. Here’s a sample list of my former activities followed by my new motherly caution.

  • Picking up garbage in the nearby field?  Nope. (What if the boys find used hypodermic needles or broken glass?!)
  • Serving meals at a homeless shelter?  Nope. (What if the guests use language inappropriate for little people?)

    Carrie’s children and husband after delivering a meal.

  • Home repairs and construction? Not a chance. (My boys would LOVE to hold a hammer and nails but I don’t want to spend my day in the ER.)
  • Tutoring…mentoring…legislative advocacy? I wish.  (I would either have to give the boys a piece of technology to occupy them, lasting for a maximum of 10 minutes, or else be so distracted that my efforts would be incredibly ineffective).
  • Hospice or pastoral outreach?  Maaaaybe…. (Some of the things that the boys would say would likely be endearing… but their span of attention would wane much more quickly than the work entails.)
  • Meal delivery?  YES!  (As long as there are no stray dogs – a problem in inner-city Detroit in some places – and the porch is safe and they aren’t whining or tired or dropping the boxes of food…) We (mostly) successfully did this with Meals on Wheels in 2014, 2015, and 2016!

The list could go on and on.  I’m sure you have your own favorites that have now dwindled to a much smaller, more refined list.  

Maybe some of this difficulty is also because of how I am still trying to fit my old experiences into my new life. My daily tasks and responsibilities are radically different from when I was single, as it should be now that I’m married, with two kids ages 7 and 3 ½!  I feel like I need to invite a new perspective into my reflections on service so that I’m more engaged instead of less.

Which leads me back to Luke’s gospel passage describing the scene between Jesus and his disciples just prior to the Passover.  For those who know me, they know that Holy Thursday is my favorite day in the Triduum.  In fact, this day inspires both my husband and I so much that we decided to incorporate the washing of one another’s feet in our wedding ceremony instead of lighting a unity candle.  

And when I start to get frustrated or feel bummed because my typical “go-to’s” related to service are no longer an option (in the short-term), I think of what Jesus was trying to do with his gathering of friends.  In the setting of a meal, in the environs of a home, on his knees and with great tenderness, serving those he loved.   “I am among you as one who serves.”  And then, All of a sudden I am able to reframe my everyday actions into the service I’ve been yearning for!  It’s the type of service I (and other parents/caregivers) do every day without really noticing it:

  • Getting little people up, dressed, cleaned, and presentable
  • Serving at least two meals per day and preparing a third
  • Driving around… and driving around… and driving around…
  • Being kind with words, being patient with responses, engaging in conversation…
  • “Please”; “Thank you”; “Use your words”; “Be kind to your brother”; “Please use your utensils”; “Please help me clean up”; etc., etc., etc., etc.

When I think of how my service looked before, I realize that those three letters in that word HOW have just now changed into WHO.  I’m engaging in difficult service Every.Single.Day.  And I do it for those who it is often the most challenging to be my servant-self to… the people who I see daily and can easily overlook, the people who test me most intimately, the people who accept me no matter what.  

We often think of service as being externally, community focused.  When Jesus first begins his ministry, he engages in “service”–healing those suffering from physical or mental ailments, walking from community to community to preach and share the good news.  Yet, on the days before his final suffering, Jesus turns inward and focuses his “service” to his everyday people–the disciples–who have been beside him in more mundane ways.  Is this not a model for those of us struggling to engage community civic duty because of our families, young children or other hindrances?  Can we not find as much meaning and modeling from Jesus’ own actions by serving those right within our daily interactions?  I certainly think so, and I’m taking more hope that for the next bit of time, I’m being called to be a servant right where I interact the most.

[socialpug_tweet tweet=”I’m being called to be a servant right where I interact the most”]

I know that one day my boys will be strapping young men and able to lift the beams of a broken house or tenderly hold the words of a man with a broken spirit.  For now, I’m trying my best this Lenten season to show them how best to be a servant by serving them first… with patience, with love, with grace from God.

Maybe your experiences have been different and I would love to think that I can still learn new tricks for this social-justice/parenting integration! Please share what your thoughts are on this topic, along with any other bright spots that have entered your family experience of almsgiving and service during this beautiful season of Lent.

Carrie Nantais

Carrie Nantais, M.Div., MA, currently lives in Detroit, MI with her husband, David, and two sons, Liam (age 6) and Theo (age 3). She is completing her PhD in Clinical Psychology in May, 2017. Her areas of interest include: integration of spirituality and psychology, forgiveness, trauma and resiliency and women’s health issues. When she takes care of herself, she enjoys yoga, being creative, singing loudly in the car and laughing with her family.

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