05 August 2011


"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together."
 -Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s

I have to be honest here: I am uncomfortable with "helping" people. This might seem strange, considering my current occupation. But it's the bold truth--I tend to shy away from words like "fixing" and "helping." It's why the title of my blog is 'living and serving'... because I am intensely uncomfortable with 'helping people.'

I recently read an article by Dr. Rachel Remen that resonated with me: Helping, Fixing, or Serving? Here is an excerpt that more eloquently explains what I am getting at:

"Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.

Service rests on the premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. From the perspective of service, we are all connected: All suffering is like my suffering and all joy is like my joy. The impulse to serve emerges naturally and inevitably from this way of seeing.

Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.

Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others. Fixing and helping are draining, and over time we may burn out, but service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us. In helping we may find a sense of satisfaction; in serving we find a sense of gratitude.

Service is not an experience of strength or expertise; service is an experience of mystery, surrender and awe. Helpers and fixers feel causal. Servers may experience from time to time a sense of being used by larger unknown forces. Those who serve have traded a sense of mastery for an experience of mystery, and in doing so have transformed their work and their lives into practice."

Dr. Ramen published that in the Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine, in 1999. While I learn much and use Buddhist meditation techniques in a centering prayer practice, I am a Christian and therefore cannot think about service without thinking about Christ, who "did not come to be served, but to serve."

At the end of our liturgy we end with:
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

We are called to love and serve as Christ loves and serves--to follow the commandments to love God and love one another. In serving others we serve God--we recognize that holy mystery that resides in all of creation. I hope you will seek out ways to serve--in small ways and not-so-small ways, because all service is service to God.


  1. http://dogobarrygraham.blogspot.com/2009/07/help-yourself.html

  2. ah! i was looking for that post! for some reason it eluded me. thanks b!

  3. This is absolutely beautiful, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing it. It's hard sometimes to build our own thoughts into words and Dr. Ramen says it so elegantly. We are taking on that challenge to serve others with whom we share this earth and it doesn't have to be work abroad to be service. It's something anyone can do, any time. Keep it up, girl!

  4. glad you liked it Karen!!

    don't forget to email me! else I will steal from your blog ;)

    you are leaving soon! ahh!!! :D