Servanthood: Desirable or Despicable?

Recently, an Australian parenting forum discussed an article I wrote last Fall, "Teaching Our Daughters to be Ladies". In the middle of eleven pages of discussion about the article (mostly dubbing my ideas old-fashioned) were a couple comments that caught my eye.
"Purity, servanthood etc are things I will actively AVOID teaching my daughter. A 'helper' to her husband? Bleargh - No way."

"My definition of a 'lady' doesn't have anything to do with 'servanthood'

"Sorry, I couldn't get past the first paragraph.
Maybe you could summarise what you find interesting about it for those of us whose heads explode when we read about girls being trained to be servants?"

"I plan on raising my DD to be a polite, self-respecting and caring woman but there's no way she'll ever be subservient to a man, or anyone else for that matter - especially when she's already (at 5mths) got my DH saying to her things like, 'See? Daddy's doing the dishes and is cooking dinner -
this is what men are supposed to do!' "
These comments were made by women who never thought they'd be read by me, and I certainly don't take offense. Nor did I brush them off, thinking "oh, what a bunch of godless Aussie moms." The plain fact is that these comments could have been made just as easily by American Christian mothers, having been steeped in feminism. Because none of us, including me, get very excited about being a servant.

Jerry White writes, "No one wants to be a servant. Servants are unobserved. They exist for another's comfort and convenience. They receive no recognition."

From childhood, we have the opportunity to observe servants in action, but we learn to overlook them. We see janitors in restrooms; we see waiters and waitresses in restaurants; we see customer service representatives. And we see how they are treated, and we are told in every way to avoid holding these jobs and avoid being treated this way.
"Even in the Christian community, where servanthood is extolled, no one actually wants to be treated like a servant. The idea sounds great; the reality is miserable."

Living out a life of servanthood isn't easy, but if Jesus is our Lord, then that makes us servants. What makes it even more difficult, as White points out in his book, "Choosing Plan A in a Plan B World: Living Out the Lordship of Christ," is that we are not merely called to be servants to the high and lofty of this world. We are not like celebrity assistants, who are looked up to as getting closer to fame than most of us ever will. No, "God's servant is automatically the servant to common, ordinary, sinful people."

White discusses the actions of a servant- which we can all describe easily enough. That's the easy part- figuring out how a servant acts. Making a meal, serving the sick, attending to the needs of the people around us- these are all ways that we can
act as a servant.

The attitude of a servant may be less clear to us. It is lost to us in this society, as we are a part of a culture that treasures service but teaches us to never want to be the one that serves. Servants do not hear "thank you," do not get asked for their opinion, and
are often despised and mistreated.

Luke 17:10 shows us the proper attitude of servants, who instead say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have only done what was our duty." Unlike human servants, who may cook a good meal with a lousy attitude and yet please their master with a meal well made, the underlying heart attitude is what makes a servant (and the act of service) pleasing to Christ. Even the most simple actions, like "offering a cup of cold water," are plea
sing to the Lord if done as unto Him.

A servant does not demand 'rights', and "never thinks of any work as too menial or beneath his dignity." Jerry White asks some questions worthy of our examination: "Do I possess the attitude of a servant? Do I serve from my heart or because I must? Are my responses that of a servant or a superior? Will I truly serve my family? Have I ever been accused of being (or been treated like I was) a servant? Why not?"

Definitely food for thought. I know it does not thrill my heart to be talked down to or mistreated. I feel convicted by this whole topic, and will be thinking on this for a while. What say you?


Diane said...

It just continues to astonish me every time I read about people who are so lost and deceived. Actively avoiding teaching purity?! That's crazy! I loved your article and enjoy reading your blog. I don't know if I've ever commented before but I thought I'd give you a "you go girl!" on this one. =)
Blessings ~ Diane

*~Tamara~* said...

Jess, some time ago on a message board, the topic of women/men working together in private came up. There were several varied responses to what these women thought of that situation. "I don't have a problem with it." "I wouldn't like it but you do what you've got to do." "Why should this bother you? They're just two people working together. Don't you trust him?" Among others.

My response reflected my worldview, which takes a regular beating. ;-) My concern would be two-fold: placing ourselves in a situation where we could not only sin, but easily get away with it; and, giving an impression of impropriety to others who might observe a casual, familiar relationship between two people who were married to someone else.

Well, let me just put it mildly and say that a minor riot ensued. My position on this particular issue was called "old-fashioned," "misguided," and the ever-popular "NUTS!!!" I had to laugh at the outrage that my somewhat mild response caused.

I say that to say this: I have learned over the years that it is not just our Jesus who offends the unsaved. It is our whole Truth. The smallest thing, like protecting your testimony, or in your case, considering yourself a "servant" to others, will incite anger and scoffing because they simply can not relate. Once you know Jesus, so many other things make perfect sense. Until then, they are "foolishness." To not only serve, but joyfully serve, is a foreign concept to those who see themselves as autonomous and individual.

See you Sunday. :-)

Leigh said...

I am really enjoying your blog! I found it through LAF.


Anonymous said...

"My definition of a 'lady' doesn't have anything to do with 'servanthood'."

Perhaps that's why we don't meet many ladies anymore. :(

aka Skylark

Paula said...

I think that in today's society we have just come to understand one word to mean one thing when in actuality it means another. Christ Himself said He came to serve not to be served. Being a servant is NOT the same as being a slave. Just like submission is not being a brainless doormat.

I am teaching my daughter to serve others as Christ served us. Not to be a slave to anyone. And just as Christ submitted to His Father, I am teaching my daughters to be submissive to their husbands.

And what JOY there is to be found in serving! There are earthly rewards which will pass and heavenly rewards which will last. Whenever my children do something and then point it out, I always remind them that if they are seeking earthly rewards, then they will have already gotten their reward. That it is better to serve and not seek a reward, for then our reward will be heavenly.

It can get discouraging at time to serve my family and not get any thanks. But I do get quite a bit of thanks from my family if I just LOOK at it. The smile on my child's face or the extra long and deep hug from them. The peace that resides in my home because things are the way they should be. The joy on my husband's face when he comes home after a long hard day at work.

Anyways, sorry for the ramble. It definitely is food for thought.

dcrmom said...

The concept of servanthood is definitely counter-culture. I think it is important to remember that our identity as servants is because we are to imitate our Lord, who made himself a servant to the lowly of this world. It is only in that context that one would begin to appreciate the concept. And also to make the point that it is not only our daughters we are raising to be servants, but our sons as well. It's not a gender thing. That makes the concept no less unusual, but at least not as offensive.

Of course, if you are talking the roles of men and women in marriage, we once again seem "nuts" to the world. But when understood properly, how the husband's roll is to give his life for his wife as Christ did for the church and to honor her and consider her counsel as his helpmate, it is again, still unusual by worldly standards, but not quite as offensive.

And all these concepts are pointless without the message of the Gospel. And I fear that discussing these issues with non-Christians tend to distract from the most important thing, the message of salvation.

It's a great topic, though, for those of us striving to learn to be more Christlike and to understand our proper roles and Christian women and mothers!

Andrea said...

Good food for thought on how to be a servant. I always try to remember that whatever I do, I am serving Christ--and that supercedes all things.

Seashell / Chelsea said...

You are right on target. There are so many Bible verses on serventhood. It's such a huge part of the Christian life and our witness. Thanks for reminding me to remember that we should do everything as unto our Lord.
And thanks for a great blog.

wanderingrose said...

I realize we are talking more about spiritual service here but I think my comment still apply,

I work as a personal assistant to a woman who is physically disabled. Although we do not use that label anymore, in a sense I work as her servant.

While I am in her home I do all the things she needs me to do, and I do them the way she wants them done.

I make a conscious effort whether I am making the bed, cleaning the kitchen, or get lunch for her husband, to remember that I am acting in her stead.

For her part, she treats my with the utmost kindness and respect, she values everything I do, she pays me well and thanks me frequently.

I feel what I do is service, and it is an honor to do it.

sealjoy said...

Servant is like a bad word in the ear of an unbeliever or a self driven person. This is mainly because since the beginning of the fall, man has tried to set himself apart and above. To be a servant means to consider the wellbeing of others above yourself, the happiness of others above your own.

But I think where the lie from the enemy comes in is in the definition. Many view servanthood as forgetting yourself, or discounting yourself. But we are not called to do that either. If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others. Many Christians who try to take on the role of servant, in my view take on the lie as well as the biblical truth. And in the end are not happy because they followed the lie thinking it would bring happiness. But if we put first God's will, not our own, Think of others, without discounting or forgetting ourselves in the mean time, then we may succeed.

I struggle with this often, as I was raised a strong independent woman, as my mother was a widow early on and had to be the head of the house. Learning to submit was the hardest thing and still is for me. I had to learn that submission isn't blind obedience, God gave us a mind and tells us to use it. It is merely giving the burdens to your husband and nurturing his ability to handle them. Can you imagine how much stress we women would not have to deal with if we let go and let our husbands be men? Yet we still hold on as tightly as possible to those reigns that are hurting us.

Anonymous said...

Not that long ago I could have been writing comments like those Aussie women. Now I am a joyful servant, hoping others can find the same joy. Thanks for making me think and be thankful.

Mrs Pilgrim said...

Those people who denigrate servanthood demonstrate that they are ignorant. A "servant" is someone whose conduct is directed by another--a "master." The servant receives a reward from his master, theoretically, as the master values his service. This goes as easily for doctors and attorneys as for maids and road crews. (A working mom, incidentally, has MORE masters, not fewer, than the SAHM.)

In essence, EVERYONE is a servant, because NOBODY is absolute dictator of the world. Even Donald Trump answers to his investors.

The fact that people tend to be snobby toward janitors, waitstaff, and customer-service reps doesn't mean that the job is worthless--far from it; if janitors ceased to exist, think what the restrooms would look like! It means that the rude people are, well, rude--and rather shortsighted.

I learned a long time ago that one actually can benefit heavily from being nice to these people. Chat with the sacker and give a tip, and they will FIGHT each other to help you to the car. Be polite to the customer-service rep and they will practically kill themselves to help you, even if it means siding against their employer.

When I hear of people denigrating "service," it makes me wonder how they figure out how to put on their clothes in the morning--because they really have no common sense.