Check your “Check Engine” light!

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Check your “Check Engine” light!
by Jim Priest

Rotary promotes “service above self”.  But is there a limit to that?

I’m leading an adult Sunday School class through a study of the book “Living Joy” by Chris Stefanick. It’s written in a reader friendly style that includes “how to” sections in each chapter about how to implement Chris’ “9 Rules for Joyful Living”. I suffer from mental whiplash when I hear “joy” and “rules” in the same sentence, but I get Chris’ point. One of the rules to find joy is to “Serve” and Chris makes some excellent points about the need to focus on others in order to find real joy. Here’s part of his intro to the chapter:

To experience true joy your heart has to shift from self centered to other centered….It’s about transforming your desire, your life goals, and the way you view success.  It’s about transforming your attitude….the only way to find joy is to forget your own quest and help others find it.  In short:  If you want to really live, you have to lay down your life.  Jesus said the same thing. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friend.”

But, I’m wondering, can we go too far in serving others? Is there a “balance” that needs to be achieved? Or is “balance” a cop out that allows us to keep a selfish focus on ourselves?

When you think of someone serving others who first comes to mind?


You probably thought of Mother Teresa. She gave and gave and gave to the poor and downtrodden. So much so she won the Nobel Peace Prize, has been canonized by the Catholic Church and is admired by millions around the world. If service = joy, you’d think Mother Teresa would have been deliriously joyful.

She wasn’t. In fact, she suffered from depression.

Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta was a book that appeared after her death, containing some of her letters and diary entries, including this one describing her despondency as:

Surrounds me on all sides – I can’t lift my soul to God – no light or inspiration enters my soul . . . Heaven, what emptiness – not a single thought of Heaven enters my mind – for there is no hope. . . The place of God in my soul is blank.

There may be many reasons for this saint’s depression and, I’m guessing, she also enjoyed times of great joy. The point is this: You can serve too much. You can empty your own gas tank and not be able to fill others’. We have to balance on a knife’s edge between serving too little and serving too much. And it’s a challenging balance to achieve.

You and I will never get it locked down completely right. So don’t worry if you wander back and forth between what feels like under serving and over serving. But keep an eye on your life dashboard for the “check engine” light. When it flashes red, you need to pull over. If you start to feel overloaded and anxious, you may have to do what Jesus told his followers to do when they were so pressed by serving others they didn’t even have time to eat!

 …Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to them, “Come ye apart with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. Mark 6:31-32

Service can lead to joy. But sometimes it can be overdone.

Remember to watch for your “check engine” light and don’t feel guilty when you need to “come ye apart”.

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