Balancing Service and Solitude: Ministering to Our Neighbors and Ourselves

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Rev. Jason Curry, Fisk University Memorial Chapel

Whenever I board an airplane, I take the time listen to the flight attendant who is reviewing the safety instructions. When I was a bit younger, I was always shocked, confused and a bit irritated by one of the statements made by the attendant. As the plane was headed down the runway, he or she would say: “If you are traveling with a child, put the oxygen mask over your face first, then place the mask over your child’s face.” Any parent, mentor, surrogate parent, big brother or big sister who has taken care of a younger child, can think of an instance in which they have made a tremendous sacrifice for a child. In some instances, we’ve put the child’s needs before those of our own. However, the flight attendant was making a simple point with his or her statement: “We know that you want to help or serve your child. However, if you don’t take care of yourself first, then the child will not be able to take care of himself or herself. Taking care of yourself first helps to ensure the survival of two people.”

There are numerous passages of scripture in the New Testament which highlight the value of serving others. For example, Jesus told the disciples: “The greatest among you will be your servant (Matthew 23:11).” In Acts 20:35, the Apostle Paul is quoting Jesus when he says: “…it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Jesus gives us instructions on how we should treat one another in Matthew 25:36 when he says: “I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” However, Jesus always says that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves (see Matthew 22:39). Throughout history, people have argued that it is impossible to show authentic love toward our neighbors if we don’t first show love toward ourselves.

For our spiritual and perhaps our physical survival, we must find the healthy or appropriate balance between service to others and that solitude (i.e., being in the presence of God while we are by ourselves) this  necessary to “recharge” ourselves. Jesus spent time talking to the masses of the people (e.g., the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5) and feeding the multitudes (.e.g., Matthew 14:13-21). However, Jesus also went to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16).  Also, after Jesus was tempted by the devil, Matthew 4:11 stated the angles ministered unto Jesus when he was alone.

Jesus saw the value of both service and solitude. Both concepts were essential for the progression of his ministry. Both concepts are also  essential for our spiritual health.

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