Serving With Only What You Have

This is a guest post by Catherine Brunell.


Kids holding handsIt is Hank’s week in our house.  This is a Lenten tradition borrowed from a childhood friend.  Each member of her family got a week during the season where the others prayed for the week’s celebrity and practiced small acts of kindness towards him or her.  When I’d go over to play, the signs in their kitchen made me want my own week.  I was envious of the pieces of posterboard hanging around the room and the sentiment behind it all.  By the end of Lent, my friend’s small dark kitchen was a visual love fest between siblings who in real life stole each other’s candy and (probably) fought as much as the rest of us did.  My family was full of love but I still wanted an actual visual display of my name and all the adjectives that described my best qualities. When I had my own kids, I remembered the Kohler’s kitchen and pulled it out when Lent began.  Of course, I don’t know what will teach my children to be generous and loving people, but I trust those qualities will have something to do with how they treat one another.  This is my way of making Lent as personal as Christ’s love is for each of us.

Delight in Receiving and Giving
Hank, this week’s recipient, is three.  He doesn’t have to fast, he has no money to give and his prayers echo the things his brother and sister say.  Still, that it is “his week,” is not lost on him.  He’d be delighted if only by the declaration and a piece of candy.  But, last night his sister Jane set the table just for him and he found a new level of fondness for her.  She chose a dark blue tablecloth—the closest we have to black (his favorite)—and put him in the coveted middle seat of our breakfast nook.  He also received a bunny napkin and a blue plate and as a finishing touch, his siblings got the seats next to him.  You can imagine his delight in all of this.  It was as if he was seated on a throne.   And Jane was the happiest table setter I have ever seen; a five year old with a nearly undone ponytail upon her head with eyes that beamed with contented joy.

These are not always the eyes I have when I am almost throwing the silverware and plates on the table in the rush before dinner gets cold.  In many ways, I am living a life I never saw coming.  Laundry piles times six, more emails than I can manage about play dates and school e-blasts, and runny noses that don’t stop from November until March.  For now, I am doing the stay at home mom thing.   Every day I have moments when I fall deeper in love with life because I am so entrenched in the minutia of living it.  But, I also often have many moments of crazed boredom or gut clinching “is this my purpose” worry.  After five years of this, I know that I need real life antidotes so that the mommy doubt doesn’t entirely knock me down.

Service That’s Worth It
Jane’s set table will forever be one of these antidotes.  Unflinchingly, she gave Hank what she had to give.  Setting the table is her job, her very small domain.  It is her part in our busy family and also precisely how she made her little brother’s week even more special.  Jesus' temptationShe had no idea that her tiny action would also soothe my continuing existential worries and remind me to engage in all of the acts of service that I can.  Jane’s action during Lent brings me back to Jesus’ profound moment in the desert during his 40 days. When the devil tempts him to abandon the task at hand and do something flashy Jesus stays steady and trusts that his path as it is, is the only path that will serve him and eventually all of mankind.  I imagine that the devil jumping up and down on the stone saying, “Change it, change it,” was as annoying as the voice in our own heads that says, “What are you doing that’s worth anything?”

When we are brave enough to live the path before us, much like Jesus in the final season of his life, the service that we will find will be exactly the service that will lead to our becoming.  And, eventually it will extend into the lives of others.  What is it for you? Who or how can you serve today with only exactly what you have?  Where is your domain and how can you influence it?  The rest of us will be better for what you find.

Catherine Brunell is a pastoral minister of the everyday, finding meaning in ordinary things. She recently published her first book, Becoming Catholic, Again. Catherine has a master’s degree in pastoral ministry and lives in Natick, Massachusetts, with her four children and husband. Follow her on Facebook.


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