Who, me? No thanks!

22 Sep

The knock on the monastery door was loud and decisive.  When the old monk, the gatekeeper, opened the door he found standing before him a middle-aged man dressed in simple but neatly tailored attire.

“I desire to become a monk,” the man announced.  “I have renounced everything I own.  I’ve moved out of my home, my slaves are now the property of a new owner, all my clothes – even the formal robes I used to wear to state dinners – gone.  I am penniless and accept my poverty gladly.  I am ready to become a member of this community.”

“Life is not easy here, my friend,” the old man told him.  “I know, I know,” the inquirer replied, “but I have made a choice to serve the world from my poverty.”

The wise gatekeeper, himself a monk for thirty years, invited the man to pass through the gate, but to sit for a moment with him in the austere courtyard.

“You have made a choice to serve,” repeating the man’s own words.  “Yes, I am ready,” the visitor assured him.  “Very well, I will show you where to change and I will give you your first assignment.  When you have put on the monk’s robe, I want you to clean the latrines over there in the corner, taking care to scrub them carefully.  They haven’t been cleaned in a while so there is an urgent need.”

There was a  long silence as the newly arrived monk-to-be studied the old man’s face, then the latrines across the courtyard, then the man’s face again.  “Who, me?  You want me to scrub the latrines?  Isn’t that the work of those who take care of the monastery for us?  Surely you can make such an assignment to one of them.”

The old man’s three word response was wrapped in a soft, gentle smile.

“We are ‘them'”.

It has been said that there is a huge difference between the choice to serve and the choice to be a servant.  When I choose to serve, writes Richard Foster, I am still in charge.  I decide what’s worthy of our serving, whom I will serve, and a time that is most convenient.  But when I choose to be a servant, I give up the right to be in charge.  The choice to serve is often wedged into a list of important priorities.  Being a servant, though, is a style of living, a willingness to become both available and vulnerable.

To choose to serve.  To choose to be a servant.  It’s not an easy choice. 

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