“. . . whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
– Mark 10:43
Several years ago during my corporate life our company changed one of its internal policies. Being opposed to the change I was furious, convinced that this newly dictated procedure would severely inhibit my business unit’s ability to transact business. So upset was I that I became obsessed with proving that I was right and “they” were wrong, rather than focusing on ways to operate within the new guidelines. Soon my anger and obsession began to cause me to lose sight of my real purpose, that of serving the customers and employees who I was charged to serve. Only when I realized that my bitterness was robbing me of my true purpose did things begin to improve. And of course the new policy, once I learned to abide by it, proved not to be nearly as devastating as I had predicted, the work environment became much more pleasant thanks to my changed attitude, and business got back on track and began to grow.
There’s an old, rather comical description of heaven and hell which you’ve probably heard. It begins with a scene from hell where its residents are gathered around a banquet table set with an abundant and scrumptious feast, not exactly what one would expect in hell, until a closer look reveals an atmosphere of bitter agony due to the fact that their arms could not bend so they could feed themselves. Surprisingly, the scene from heaven was identical including the unbending arms. The difference was that there was an atmosphere of great joy as the inhabitants used their stiffened arms to feed one another.
Although this fable may have been intended to create an image of the hereafter, it may actually be even more descriptive of the here-and-now. How often do we become obsessed with surviving or thriving – or proving we are right like I did – when our real purpose should be to serve? Surviving, thriving, and proving ourselves right is all about us, and focusing on “us” will ultimately lead to misery as demonstrated by the stiff-armed inhabitants of hell. Serving, however, is about others, and serving others is what leads to joy like the inhabitants of heaven experienced. Or as Dr. Albert Schweitzer once claimed “the only really happy people are those who have learned how to serve”.