Holy Thursday and Hearts for Service

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Have you ever felt completely undeserving when someone does something nice for you?

I have.  And to be honest, I’m not sure if I sometimes feel that way because I really believe I don’t deserve something, or if it’s because I’m worried I won’t be able to repay the giver for his or her generosity.  

If I were to catalog the many graces in my life on my Facebook Newsfeed, I could easily say that I’m #blessed, because to say that I don’t want for anything in this life feels like a gross understatement.  My family has always ensured that I’m happy, healthy, and well-provided for.  But to passively accept so much while only offering what feels like feeble words of thanks in return makes me feel spoiled.  Undeserving.  Selfish.  Don’t get me wrong: I would definitely repay them for everything they’ve done for me if I could, but I don’t yet have the resources to do so.   

This past weekend, my mom was in town visiting my sister and me for the first time since we moved in together.  In typical Mama Z fashion, she assessed our current living situation and organizational needs, and sprang into action, speeding off to the Container Store and Target to buy things we needed and leaving us spinning in her wake, trying to keep up.  I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty organized person, but my mom breathed new life into my surroundings this weekend, making our home a more beautiful place to live and ensuring, as moms do, that her children had everything they could possibly need to thrive.  Not to mention, she paid for us to go out for breakfast and dinner most days she was here, in spite of my sister’s and my insisting that we could take care of that a few times because she’d already spent too much money on us.  During her visit, she focused exclusively on how she could serve us, on what she could give.  And she didn’t ask for anything in return.  

It’s humbling to be at the receiving end of such service and generosity, attitudes and actions that are characteristic of the other members of my family as well.  They give without expecting to be repaid, and yet still I yearn to repay them.  Like today’s Psalmist, who asks, “How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done to me?” (Psalm 116:12 NAB) I frequently feel overwhelmed by the kindnesses imparted to me by family.  How can I pay them back?  How can I show them how much I appreciate all they’ve done?  And then I realize that 23 years of selfless love on their part might be something I won’t ever be able to completely repay, and I can’t help but feel a tad unworthy of their outpourings of love.  

I think this might be what’s niggling Peter in today’s Gospel when Jesus is washing His disciples’ feet and the former insists, “You will never wash my feet.”  I don’t deserve this.  I should be washing your feet, doing something simple to give you even a smidgen of what you’ve given me.  I feel ya, Peter.  How do we even begin to give back when nothing we do can compare to what they’ve given us so freely in love?  How do we show them we appreciate them?

The answer comes from Jesus Himself: “If I… the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:14-15, NAB).  

Perhaps it’s not so much about paying someone back as it is about paying love forward.  There’s a beautiful prayer attributed to St. Therese in which the young saint prays, “May you… pass on the love that has been given to you.”  And when, for example, I’ve told my grandpa, another unfailingly generous individual in my life, with words that fall flat, that I don’t think I can ever thank him enough for all he’s done to help me, it’s that very sentiment he echoes: “I know someday you’ll do the same.”  Maybe not for him, depending on how long he lives, but for my future grandchildren, in the hopes they’ll do the same for theirs.

And here’s the crazy thing: you can’t serve someone else, you can’t love someone else, without also loving God.  “…Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NAB).  And I think it’s the greatest expression of thanksgiving to use the gifts we’ve received as a means of in turn giving what we can to others, to “pass on the love that has been given to [us].”     

Pass it on.  It’s something we need to do more of in this world.  Pass on the love.  That is how we create hearts for service, and it is my prayer as this Easter weekend begins, and beyond, to do just that.