On Having a Servant’s Heart

Something that has been on my mind and heart lately has been what it means to serve others. The concept of having a “servant’s heart” is easily found in Scripture, and it’s something that is occasionally talked about in Christian circles. The mindset and desire to selflessly, sacrificially, serve others regardless of how you feel about them and what it may or may not cost you. To do so without any form of bitterness or resentment, with no anger. You live to serve anyone you come across with words, actions, and resources – without any hesitation.

To look at Scripture we see two instances which distills what it means to have a servant’s heart.

The first instance is at the wedding at Cana, where everyone is having a good time. During said good times, Mary noticed that there was a crisis afoot; the wedding was running out of wine. Back then (and possibly even today), running out of wine would have been inexcusable, the ultimate insult to guests during a wedding feast. Mary immediately dropped everything to help those in need by going to the one Man who could solve the problem; her son Jesus Christ. Jesus asked her what concern of it was His, and her response was telling; no complaints, no bitterness. She went to the attendants and said the words that we should forever take heed – “do whatever He tells you”.

The second is the least well known, and features the man in Gospels who to me exemplifies what it means to have a servant’s heart; Andrew. Yes, Andrew. Lost in the Gospels is the role Andrew had, and how he went about his business. Who was one of the first people Jesus to call? It was Andrew. After that, Andrew ran to find his brother Simon, and took him to Jesus. After time passes, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, calls him “The Rock (Kepha) I will build my Church”, makes him the first Pope, and generally treats Peter like a huge deal. Was Andrew upset, no he wasn’t; because alter on you see *him* being the one to gather the loaves and fishes. He was the first one to jump up and take action to serve others, and the Gospels show no indication he was bitter or upset with his brother being chosen over him as leader. I’ve always have had a compulsive need to help people, but it’s the lesson with Saint Andrew that, with reflection, I have learned over the years – especially with the ongoing desire to grow as man with a servant’s heart, to serve others before myself in a way that is selfless and without any bitterness. Being “the Andrew”.

My approach to ministry has changed over the years to coincide with this desire. When Marc took over as the youth coordinator, I wanted to make sure that he was welcome, and that he had my support. He’s the fourth youth coordinator we have had at Annunciation, and this time around more than the usual adjustments would need to be had because the dynamic was inherently different; there’s a ten year age gap between us. To put this into perspective as it pertains to ministry; in 2003 when I first started volunteering in youth ministry, I don’t think Marc was in high school yet.

I knew there was to be adjustments, and the first one happened almost immediately. When he posted the first semester of nights, I found that my name was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t leading any nights, and I wasn’t giving any talks or running any workshops at all for those three months. I was disappointed at first; I enjoy leading such things, and enjoy sharing knowledge and stories (why else would I have a blog?). And was I not trusted? Did he not know that at that point I had been doing youth ministry for eight years? Several of these questions raced through my mind, although I didn’t voice these questions aloud. Instead, I took it to prayer and contemplated the situation. While doing so, I began to have a sense that this was the right thing, and that it would give me a different kind of opportunity to grow. I was telling Stephanie about the situation, and told her “you know, I think it may be for the best that this happened. It will give me a chance to invest in others, work on relationships, and take on a mentorship role”.

So with that I made the conscious choice to take a back seat and let him lead. Years of being an “upfront” leader (in some cases by choice, other cases because there was a need), I decided to move forward with taking on the role of serving the leader. I let it be known to Marc that he had my full support in all decisions pertaining to the ministry. I told him that if I didn’t like something I’d let him know, but anything he decided pertaining the ministry he would have my support. I reminded him on several occasions that I trust his judgement, and that I push came to shove I’d have his back. That I was there to serve him and the ministry as a whole, without questions. In doing this, it became an incredibly enriching experience. I’ve been able to have a freedom of which I have not enjoyed in ministry in some time, the freedom to serve anyone who needs to be served. I’ve been able to support others in different ways, ways that I wouldn’t have had opportunities to in the past. Talking to kids about family, about vocations, about schools and relationships. Those are things if I was “upfront” more often I wouldn’t have the chance to do. This wasn’t just applicable to the youth though, but for the other volunteers as well.

Because things changed as time moved forward. As of this post, I’m 33 years old, having been involved in youth ministry for twelve years. I have a wife and son whom I am providing for. I’ve done the school thing (twice), and navigated the at-times treacherous waters of romantic relationships, the trials of maintaining and losing friends, and the ups and downs of being involved in ministries. The journeys I have taken, they will soon be facing themselves. Some of them see me, and they desire what I have, in some cases walking down the same path. Taking a step back from “visible leadership” would free me work alongside these younger folks, and try to build them up. Encourage them, guide them. Lend an ear and occasionally dispense advice. Provide support in their activities and endeavors. Marc specifically has come to me at times since I’ve traveled down the path he is currently on (such as having a newborn child). That Marc comes to me and asks my opinion on both those things and things pertaining to ministry means a great deal to me, and shows the kind of relationship we have; I serve him without hesitation, yet he respects me enough to ask for my input.

In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. I was gradually heading down this path without even knowing. My friend Luc pointed this out to me, saying that he noticed my attitude and path was changing – specifically with becoming a paternal mentor more so than my previous role which was more fraternal. In large part, it all started with Mylene, who was discerning on going on NET Canada (“National Evangilization Teams”, a Catholic missionary group). Although I’ve known her since 2002 or so, we hadn’t talked all that much outside of Sunday nights. Somehow we started talking about NET, which led to myself providing an ear and offering support and guidance during the discernment process. The next year or two, this happened with others as well. I was (and still am) incredibly blessed that I could serve these amazing individuals in this fashion, and I think it helped me along the journey I have been going on.

Another area where having a servant’s heart has impacted me is in a vocational sense, and I don’t just mean the obvious route of being a servant to my wife Stephanie and our son. As someone who has studied and followed the Franciscans masters, the idea of becoming a cleric was never really considered. Within Franciscans (and other Friars), the priesthood (and Diaconate) is “accidental” – the order could exist without any clerics. The Dominicans are a clerical order, they could not exist with priests. Same with the Jesuits. The Franciscans? The call one another Brother, even the priests are called Brother (only the Superior, who doesn’t need to be a priest, is called Father. A friend of mine is not a priest, but because he is a Superior he’s called Father). They all wear the same clothes, they all do the same chores. No one person greater than the other. You see a group of them, the only way you can tell who is a priest is by asking them one at a time “can you hear my confession”.

So with that, for years, becoming a cleric was not on the table. Yet in the back of my mind, it was there. As much as I tried to fight it (and by did I try to resist it), it stuck around. It bothered me enough that I told my friend Matt (who was a transitional Deacon at the time) about it. After it came up more than once, he mentioned “for a guy who says he doesn’t want to do this, and for someone who will need to wait several years to start the process, this is sure taking up a lot in your mind”. Both he and Stephanie later mentioned that perhaps God was working in this situation – that He knew I wasn’t receptive to the idea, so He was working on things now so when the time came I would be ready. Stephanie also casually reminded me of something I told her; namely that Francis had *zero* desire to be a cleric, but in the end he was ordained a Deacon because a Bishop requested it – strictly out of obedience.. With that, I started to be more open to the idea, and I started to pay more attention to the Deacons in my life and what they did. While Matt was a “transitional Deacon” (the step before becoming a Priest), seeing him in action opened my eyes a bit to what a Deacon did. So too did my spiritual director, who is a “permanent Deacon” – that is a married man who is ordained to the Diaconate. Seeing him serve the Church and his wife in the fashion that he does, it opened my eyes and heart that the role of a Deacon is in fact very much a servant’s role, it’s a role of humility. You place your wife, the Church, and all others above yourself. You serve your wife, the Bishop, your parish, the parishioners, the world.

What sealed the deal was an information session we went to about the Diaconate training program. In it, they discussed the role of the Deacon, what he does, what ministries they can do (all of which are service oriented), and also the mindset and role of being the servant for the Church and community. Although it was just an information session, it confirmed for me that God was leading me into that direction. It was a stark change of pace in a sense, as for years beforehand I felt called to join a Third Order. But there’s a reason why there’s a discernment process, why there’s formation periods and time to wait things through. There’s plenty of time for this to play out (in Ottawa for an ordination to the Diaconate to happen, your youngest child must be 16at the time of said ordination), but at the present time I feel that God is pulling me in the direction of the Diaconate, and I’m what one may say is “content excitement”. It could be eight years or twenty years (children permitting), but that could very well be my vocation. And until I can serve that Church in that way, I can serve in other ways, and enjoy and serve my family.

I’d like to finish this post talking about the man who to me serves as a living example for what it means to have a “servant’s heart”; my Grandpa (my Mom’s dad).

We didn’t see Grandpa much, maybe once or twice a year, a few days at a time. The distance between Hanover/Walkerton and Arnprior is around 450 km’s, so when we did see him it was very special. What made it more special was the effort he put in when he saw us. Grandpa saw fit to make sure I felt special, to make sure that I felt wanted, and made sure that we did activities together – activities he knew I would enjoy. He taught me how to throw pitches (I never did get that under-hand knuckleball correctly), how to hit a baseball better. Before my grade school graduation? We were wearing dress clothes playing catch. He also, in subtle ways, taught me how to be a man of honour. He treated everyone with respect, communicated effectively without any profanity. And for as long as I’ve known him, he was (and still is) willing to sacrifice anything for anyone. Time, resources, hospitality, you name it. An example; when I was in college, he found out my bicycle was broken. He drove from Renfrew to Ottawa to take me out to lunch, brought my bike back to his house. He then came back the next day with a fixed bike, took me out for lunch *again*, paid for some groceries and went back to Renfrew. The man lived to serve others, and as a boy growing into a man who has always had a need to compulsively help people, this was something I admired and looked up to.

I have a few guesses as to why Grandpa made those extra efforts with me. Maybe it was the distance, so he wanted to make sure our time together was well spent. Mom likely told him how lonely I was, perhaps. Or maybe, and this is my best guess, his paternal instincts took over and he realized that I needed a father figure, a paternal influence. Vern, my step-father at the time, wasn’t able to provide that role for different reasons. He provided for us financially (and worked very hard to do so, for that I am incredibly grateful), but that took time away from us, he never did activities with us, never sat down to talk with us. That, in addition to other problems that he had, didn’t provide for me what I really needed.

Grandpa filled that role to the best of his abilities, and it had a tremendous impact on me. I tried to thank him for this at Stephanie and mine’s wedding during my speech, but I choked up half way through doing so. It was maddingly frustrating, to the point where I remember punching the speaking stand a couple of times. I tried to tell him as he was leaving for the night, and I couldn’t get it out. When speaking to my Mom after, I was upset, telling her that I wanted him to know. She assured me that, yes, he knew. She also told me later that some people in the family asked her what it was about, why that particular moment was so emotional for me, for which in some cases she responded with “there’s something there that some wouldn’t understand|. And she’s right, I’m not sure some people would understand how much impact a man can have on a boy when he only sees him once or twice a year. It goes to show you the power of investing, of the relational, of building bonds and relationships – and the power of serving others with all of your heart.

To further re-inforce this, I have a story my Mom told me about my Grandpa, which to me encapsulates everything there is to know about having a servant’s heart. When I was around two, my Mom was separated from my father. Although they were separated, they lived in the same home until she could find her own place. To make things harder on Mom, her own mother (my Grandma) passed away. My Mom made plans and found a ride to do the trip across the 450km’s to go to Nanny’s funeral. During the visitation, someone told my Mom that Jim was at the door.

Jim is my father, whom I talked about in a previous blog post. He came to “pay his respects”, or so he said. Based on what I have previously shared about my father, it’s pretty clear no respect was involved; the man drove across the province for the specific purpose of hurting my Mom and her family through sheer bitterness and anger. During a visitation and funeral of my family’s matriarch, he saw fit to do inflict as much emotional pain as he could. No one in my family liked that man. My Grandpa hated him that man, for obvious reasons. So then, what did Grandpa do?

He told my Mom that he was going to prepare the couch downstairs for my father, since he likely needed a place to stay, and would extent the invitation for him to stay with them.

My father ended up staying at Grandpa’s house. My Grandfather gave temporary shelter and a bed to the most bitter, vindictive, hateful man I have even encountered. Despite how he felt towards my father, he still served with an open heart, with charity.

With that story in mind, it should come once again as no surprise that for years I have said that Grandpa is who I aspire to be. I live my life as a tribute to him for how he served me when I was younger, how he has and continues to serve others. I honour him through that, and Stephanie and I honour him through our son Desmond, who we directly named after Grandpa. Desmond meanwhile, has taken after me – he is overjoyed to serve and help others, nothing pleases him more. Which means, if it continues, for as long as Desmond and I draw breath, Grandpa’s legacy of a servant’s heart lives on. I can only dream, pray, and hope that I reach his level of a servant’s heart. That I can serve my wife in a manner that befits her, serve my son as a my Grandpa served me.

I’m on that path now, and I continue to travel on it. To serve my wife and son, to serve others. To be “the Andrew” in people’s lives.

And thank you, Grandpa. Thank you.

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