Thomas Merton once said, “Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.” This is true of service in its most pure state. To love another human being is to love one’s own self. And, to love one’s own self is to love another. Paradoxically, when we are truly giving to others for their sake, we also become the receiver. I think this is why God made identity such a relational thing. In service to others we receive them and can become a whole new person.
Service to others does two things (and probably many more) to the giver. The first thing is that in receiving the wounds of another person we are transformed. In facing the reality of the wounded, we are forced to face the reality of our wounds. Their wounds become our healing. Henri Nouwen says it best,
“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.
“Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others”
The other thing service does for the giver is that it forces us to detach from our ego and our addiction to materialism. In serving those who are “lower than we are”, it reveals the ego for what it is: a lie. Being around the brokenness will expose us for who we are. In service to our neighbor, we realize that we don’t have neighbors, we are the neighbor. What we hate in others is what we hate in ourselves. And, what we love in others is really what we love in ourselves. The ego keeps us set apart from others. It keeps us set apart from who we really are. It keeps us set apart from God.
It also detaches from our addiction to accumulation. We are hell bent on gaining “more stuff.” A man can only serve one master. If he wants to worship himself, he will destroy himself. But, if he wants to worship God, then he knows that he cannot serve God and Mammon (the word used by Jesus for possessions). Jesus teaches us the importance of letting our yes be our yes, and letting our no be our no. In saying yes in service of gift and time to another, we are saying no to an infinite amount of other things. Saying yes to those in need forces us to evaluate what is true and necessary. Serving others shows me what I really need vs. what I or society tells me that I need.