It starts with a Divine spark within. For me it was the smallest of embers after years of drinking alcoholically and living a selfish, self-centered life devoid of helping others. Note that I did not say a life devoid of loving thoughts. I had loving thoughts; I just failed to put them into action.
Thoughts are cheap, nearly worthless if not put into action. Love is best expressed in acts of service.
It’s said that a candle losses nothing in lighting another candle. Loving acts of service do not diminish the giver, they strengthen.
I am reminded of how my daughter got me into service a couple years before my permanent sobriety. Because what we did was done in secret–we served anonymously–I won’t go into the details. But it was a project the whole family got involved with and, for me personally, it got me out of my head and into thinking of others.
That act sparked something within me that rekindled my spirit and prepared me to spiritually accept the program of Twelve Step recovery.
Once into recovery, those I admired and strived to follow were not shy about emphasizing the spirit of service. Like my wife, who has been sober a few years more than me is fond of saying: “I‘ve been making coffee [at meetings] since day seven; and I’ve gotten pretty good at making coffee.”
Whether it’s making coffee for a group of drunks, volunteering for a good cause, or performing random acts of kindness, service is how we express love and gratitude. Service is the key to a successful spiritual life. As Marianne Williamson said: “Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others:”
As is noted in the rooms of Twelve Step recovery, service keeps you sober. While I agree, I’d argue that it’s the low level, out-of-the-spotlight acts of service that are most beneficial. I wince when a celebrity calls attention to their philanthropy or service, but don’t I secretly wish to be noticed.
The ego is always looking for ways to bust forth. I’ve seen people I admire in the rooms of recovery completely change upon obtaining a high visibility service position. I can’t judge however, my ego is always primed to yell “Look at me!” and I have to be mindful in my daily meditations to be on the lookout for where I’m being just a little too self-seeking.
The key is to keep that pesky ego in check. I‘ve found it most rewarding to focus on getting into service throughout the day. It’s the little things, like opening a door for everyone: male or female, young or old-especially when I have to wait a little longer than normal to hold that door open. It’s taking a moment to return another’s absent-mindedly discarded shopping cart to its proper place or picking up a piece of trash I didn’t drop. It’s asking in prayer and meditation: Where can I be of service today?
I was recently reminded, as I often am, of the importance of random acts of service by my wife. Just the other day we were driving to a restaurant on the other side of town. As we were waiting for the left turn arrow, a car slightly ahead of us and to our right had their trunk pop open. I feebly tried to catch the eye of the driver and debated whether there was enough time before the arrow turned to take action. Fortunately my wife didn’t have to struggle with the internal debating society. She just jumped out, closed the trunk and returned to our car without the other driver even noticing. Hmmm.
As I perform acts of service it is imperative that I not view myself as superior to “regular” folk. I serve to combat that fact that I am, by nature, thoughtless, selfish, self-centered and ego-centric. As an alcoholic, I have to remember that I have a special obligation to give back to the program that saved me. My other acts of service supplement, but do not replace, my service in the fellowship.
Gandhi noted that it is in service to others that we find ourselves. In Twelve Step recovery the Twelfth and final Step reminds us to give back to the program that was so freely given to us. Hmmm ... maybe there’s something in to this service thing.
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