THE GRUMBLING SERVANT
David C. Hughes
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”
–Philippians 2:14-15 NIV®
Many decades ago a girl I was dating told me flat out, while sitting in the car after dinner, that I was selfish. My face flushed and my heart crashed as her words smacked into my ears and body-slammed my ego; I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach, not only because the accusation came from my girlfriend (from whom I expected only kind words and sweet nothings), but because the indictment was, to me, unfounded. She definitely collapsed the mood which had been building in the glow of the dashboard light.
Me? Selfish? Ridiculous! In the moments after, as the words thudded to the floor and the air hung thick with disbelief, I spit out the only thing I could think of in the aftermath of her allegation: “No I’m not.” But in the back of my mind I knew she’d spoken the truth: I was indeed selfish; I just didn’t want to admit it. And worse, I didn’t want to do anything about it.
Oh, I’d given money to the church, and when it came to the priest’s annual stewardship exhortation to reflect on how we could donate more of our time, treasure, and talents to the community, I would nod in agreement. To the treasure part. You see, I’ve always been one to donate money to the church, to charities, and, on occasion, directly to those in financial need. My most developed Spiritual Gift is giving, and I have a supernatural urge to give even when it doesn’t make any sense. The Lord has been faithful to His promises to bless those who give out of their hearts–I’ve never been without, and I can wholeheartedly testify to the veracity of the Old Testament tradition of tithing under the covering of New Testament grace; I can tell you without an inkling of doubt that I’ve been blessed beyond measure because of my giving.
And I also believe I’m now excelling in the talent part: God planted in my heart the desire to write, and He followed through on this desire with a talent, both natural and supernatural, built up over the years with hours of practice, heartrending failures, and amazing (and humbling) successes. But I have to admit this was one area I protected selfishly. I remember leaving church one day when I was young and engaging in a conversation with a guest priest about my writing. “What do you write?” he asked me.
“Horror stories,” I told him.
“Horror stories?!” he gasped. “Why not poetry or something like that?” In other words, why not use my talent to spread the Good News rather than wasting it on edifying evil? Good point, but at that time I devoured stories by Stephen King, John Saul, Robert McCammon, and even H.P. Lovecraft. I loved to read it and I loved to write it. I had a talent for it, and I cranked out some pretty weird stories over the years. And what did following my own agenda lead me to? Failure. Plain and simple. It wasn’t until I stepped out in faith, aligned my talents with God’s will, and started writing articles for a faith-based newspaper (with absolutely no previous journalistic experience), put together and taught life skills classes to high school students in my church, and followed God’s command to write The Epiphany of Joy did my writing talent find an effective outlet. And now, by God’s grace, it’s exploding as I’ve accepted Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations.
But my old flame had hit the headpin on the nose when she called me out on my selfishness: I’m a miser with my time. For one thing, I’m an introvert. Okay, okay, those of you who know me are probably scratching your heads and saying “What the-? No you’re not!” But, really, I am. I love spending time alone, holed up in the office wrapped in a blanket of silence, with nothing but a cup of herbal tea or decaf coffee, my laptop, my God, and my thoughts. And when I’m cranking out a piece of fiction, I’ll also allow my characters to join me and cheer me on. After all, their lives are in my hands. I even insist my wife and my daughter remain on the other side of the closed office door while I’m writing.
I can’t help it: God wired me this way. And over the years I’ve become somewhat more comfortable with the fact that I don’t like spending a lot of time with people. It can hurt too much, it’s tiring, it saps my energy. When I’m done talking, I’m spent. Exhausted. Wiped out. I just want to drink some wine, go to bed, and hide out in my own little world for a few days to recover. And I know there are others of you out there who totally relate to what I’m saying. I love you guys! High five! But the world at large has no clue what I’m talking about, and thus my problem in the “time” area of stewardship: I don’t care so much to be with people, so I spend most of my time focusing on . . . me.
Ugh! There, I’ve said it. Yes, my old girlfriend was right. Don’t judge me. I do enough of that myself! Over spring break Mary was tasked with planning five days of “camps” to be conducted at the after-school program she manages. The stress of developing curriculums and activities for kids ranging from pre-school to sixth grade began taking its toll on her, so I asked her how I could help. Without hesitation she delegated a few simple tasks to me, like collecting dirt from our compost box so she could teach a module on gardening and composting, reading over the updates to the State Minimum Standards, and building a simple kite so she could show the kids what the finished product was supposed to look like.
When she handed me my assignments, I sighed. I hemmed. I hawed. I grumbled. Oh, I did most of what she asked me to do, but I certainly didn’t do it without complaining; no, my selfishness stepped between my wife and me and tried to stare her down. Luckily she didn’t buy it. Luckily God called out my poor attitude and held a mirror of introspection up to my face so I could observe the ugliness looking back at me. Luckily my wife doesn’t hesitate to call me out when my attitude stinks worse than a wet bag of corn gluten meal on a hot summer day. “I don’t speak whine,” she tells Hannah. Apparently I speak it fluently.
Helping with spring break planning provided an excellent opportunity for God to shine a light on the weakest leg of my stewardship stool. And because He gently opened my heart to the potential still remaining in building up my attitude of service, I renewed my pledge to give in to flexibility, complain less, and serve more. I committed to let my “yes” mean “yes” and my “no” mean “no,” and to take up my cross and follow Jesus, the ultimate model of what it means to serve. “A new command I give you,” said Jesus in the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV®).
Selfishness and grumbling serve nothing. Selflessness and gladness serve everything. In this increasingly narcissistic world, each one of us is being called to step out and turn our eyes away from ourselves and onto others, so that we may become blameless and pure children of the living God. So . . . how may I help you?
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes