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“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever the cost”. - Arthur Ashe

In a small, dusty town in western Oklahoma one November there lived a young single mother struggling to make ends meet. She worked as many hours as she could at a local convenience store, barely making enough to get by. After work she would take care of her small child and assist an elderly relative who lived in the same town, occasionally running errands and buying groceries. It was nearing Thanksgiving and the young mother felt a need to help others growing strong in her heart. She called local charities and finally found a cause she could give her time to.

A nearby nursing home needed someone to style residents’ hair that day. After much argument with her boss who did not want to allow her time off work to volunteer, she won her case and set off on Thanksgiving morning to the nursing home. In the hallway outside the room where she styled their hair, residents lined up. Some were in wheelchairs, some were in beds, some weren’t even awake. Most talked very little if at all, as she styled their hair to look nice for that special day, some for family visits, many for no one at all. With just a few hours of her time, she brightened many lives by giving of her time and talents..

Asked later why she was willing to go through so much to serve, she replied, “I just needed to give. I made them happy that day. I made a difference.”

In a society centered around self and success, we are so quick to find fault with others, to constantly complain about how no one is doing anything, yet slow to get up and perform even one act of service to another. So concerned are we with how others see us, we fear losing respect or being seen as weak or less if we ‘stoop’ to help carry the burden of another person though we are happy to complain about everyone else’s lack of action. In today’s hurried and harried society, the greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of your time by serving.

There are two kinds of people who serve. There are those who serve from the heart out of the need to give like the single mother who took unpaid time from work to help the elderly, and there are the pretenders who perform a service, then quickly look around expecting praise and recognition. Pretenders are willing to serve, but only if they have an audience waiting to applaud them, and never their own family. True service is serving others and expecting no recognition and nothing in return.

We all want to live in a community that follows the ‘love thy neighbor’ rule, but few want to take our time or make the effort to be that loving neighbor. We all want someone to visit us if we are shut in or ill, but do we make time to do the same for others we know when they are? Are we helping by serving their needs or do we find ourselves criticizing them for why they are there? We want to share in a loving family environment, but do we show that love to our family by serving them? A woman who cheerfully serves her husband, a husband unafraid to be seen washing a dish, or a busy person who takes time to sit with the sick, the elderly, or the lonely all show love and selflessness that is rare in today’s world.

John Gardner once said "When people are serving, life is no longer meaningless." Does your life ever feel meaningless? Do you ever catch yourself thinking “what’s the point?”

A wise friend shared over lunch once “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.” How often we serve expecting nothing in return is a clear reflection of how much we love.

You know you have truly served when you walk away afterwards feeling like you were the one who received.

“The body has to be utilized for service to others. More bliss can be got from serving others than from merely serving oneself.” - Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Excerpted from Sidewalk Flowers, Vol. 1

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