This morning I was asked by a computer media class at the Community College of Vermont to be interviewed as a volunteer who serves with the COTS (Committee On Temporary Shelter) Day Station. Basically on Wednesdays I take a group of guests from COTS to do volunteer work with other nonprofits in the community. It’s a pretty cool opportunity since it’s given me a way to build credibility with the COTS staff, get to know the COTS guests, and make connections with leaders in the nonprofit sector (which is huge in Burlington). The student interviewer asked me the expected questions about needs and issues in the community, how to best address the needs of homelessness, how others can be involved in making a difference, then she asked me the BIG QUESTION: what motivates you to serve?
It just so happens that is a question among other related questions that I’ve been thinking and praying about over the past few weeks: What motivates me to serve? How is my motivation the same or different than others in my community? How has my motivation changed over the years? It’s as if God had prepared me for this question. So here’s the answer.
There have been seasons in my life where I’ve probably been motivated by guilt. I just felt guilty if I did not do an occasional token act of service because that’s what good people do. The problem with using guilt as motivation is once I feel like I’ve paid my debt, I’m done. If I feel a little guilty, then a little bit of service will do the trick. If I feel really really guilty, then it may take getting my hands a little dirtier and working longer and harder, but eventually the guilt will pass.
There was also a time when I thought justice was the most noble motivation. Of course there are disenfranchised people with extreme needs who haven’t had a fair shake, and they deserve to be served. Here’s the problem- eventually you’ll end up serving people who are experiencing the consequences of self-inflicted wounds. You’ll meet the drug addict who also dealt drugs. You’ll meet the homeless wanderer who walked out on his wife and kids. The deeper you dig into someone’s life, the more reasons you may find not to serve them, because you may end up thinking they’re actually getting what they deserve.
I’ve discovered a much stronger foundation for serving others is rooted in this simple fact: I’ve been blessed much more than I deserve. I know God has poured His grace into my life despite the fact I do not deserve it. I know there have been kind generous people throughout my life how have poured into me when I had nothing to offer in return. Somehow I’ve realized that this blessing, this grace, provides a much deeper well to draw from than the motivations of guilt or justice could ever provide. Hopefully as I serve people, I’m allowing that same blessing and grace to overflow into another life that needs it just as I do.