“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
-- Mother Teresa
This short phrase from Mother Teresa is a good one for us to remember as we move through this holiday season, facing all of the tensions and stresses that come with it. Perhaps recalling that we are connected could serve as a catalyst to shift our focus in some ways that might make it possible to be more peaceful.
It was a great delight for me to listen to my students, who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in the Mercer University College of Professional Studies, reflect upon how one day of service was transformative for them. One of my classes spent the day at the Open Door Community in Atlanta and the other class spent a portion of its workday at Daybreak in Macon.
As many of you know, these facilities offer services to those who are homeless. One great source of irony for me was the confession of most of my students that they had never heard about either of these agencies or their services, but now they had learned of them and were interested in becoming involved in some way.
Some of my students brought their teenage children with them to help with the work on their day of service because they felt the youngsters needed to have such an experience and to learn about those who have less than they need. It is important to keep in mind that the students in this college are typically a bit older than the usual 18-year-old student, but somehow they have missed out on making service a part of their lifestyle. But at the end of the day, they were so filled with the energy that comes from being delighted to have done something for someone. They were giving me hugs of gratitude for including the service project in their evening class, a place they least expected to have a transformative experience.
While I know the value of service in helping to achieve the vision of educating people, I was surprised at the overall impact on both of my classes. I will take my Mercer spring term class to Daybreak.
I have been reflecting upon how this season could be so different with a shift in focus to serving others instead of uncontrolled consumption. What if we turned our focus from trying to find the perfect gift for people, who often have everything they need, to giving gifts to those with so little in honor of the folks that we love and want to remember?
What if we found ourselves taking seriously the message that came from Bethlehem all those centuries ago and stopped ourselves from succumbing to the noise of materialism and heard the news about our belonging to one another? What if we could find the space in our hearts to step off the roller coaster path that leads to more unhappiness than during any other season of the year and see if there might be a better way to make it through this time?
Since we do belong to each other and living out the truth of that reality can make one’s life much better, it seems we could work to do a better job in our religious and educational institutions to weave service and reflection of its value into people’s lives. More of a nationwide focus on service that allows for genuine transformation could help our country to become a better place.
Service is not about building one’s résumé nor is it about institutions being able to obtain grant funds. It has to be about transformation that comes from being intent on serving others because we belong to each other and seeing our service as our reasonable response to make throughout our lifetime.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.