Service Work: It’s More Blessed to Give than to Receive

Her name was Katie. I had met her briefly at a support group for mental illness in May 2014. We had formed a relationship based on supporting one another through our struggles with that illness.

When she made the move to New York City, I heard little from her. I assumed all was going well. She was a tough girl who had lived a rich life and now was making it in one of the biggest cities in the world.

I received the text on February 24, 2014. She sent a simple ‘hi’ at first, but I could tell she wanted to catch up.

An Opportunity to Be of Service

The full story developed in a series of texts. In the dead of winter, she had developed flu-like symptoms, dehydrated to the point where she became dizzy when she walked. She said she knew she needed to go to the hospital but was trying to power through it and continue working to pay her bills.

Her mental illness was ravaging her mind again, battering it like a ram.

She told me that she had only eaten two eggs that day, that there was no food in the house, and that she was too delirious to pick up the phone and order some food to be delivered to her door.

I told her to give me her address. I was ordering her a pizza.

Service Work, a Crucial Component of Sobriety

The principle of the 12th step reads, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

My sponsor once told me that service work doesn’t have to be confined to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. He gave the example of seeing a shopping cart lingering in the parking lot. From early sobriety to his 19 sober years, he’d take that cart and put in the corral.

It’s about putting things in their rightful place in the universe, he said, about doing something good without the recognition and the acclaim that service work can bring.

Out of Love, Not a Desire for Recognition

Service acts can be small and they can be large. I like the small ones though. They’re pure in a way that the large acts of service might not be. They involve kindness and compassion and love for another human being, helping in a way that doesn’t get recognized except between two people.

The pizza took 40 minutes to arrive. The whole time I prayed that it would get there soon. She needed that pizza, in ways I couldn’t even fully understand.

When it had finally arrived, she texted me telling me how good the pizza was. She thanked me over and over again, displaying gratitude toward me for that one small act of kindness.

Service work is about charity, which is being filled with love for another human being. It’s about kindness and compassion and understanding and the willingness to help others even when you’re not doing so well yourself.

Joy in Giving

Service brings joy into my life in the way that drinking never did. It’s lasting joy and lasting peace, the kind that doesn’t fade away after a few hours and leave a hangover. It enriches my life in the way an artificial high never can.

She gave me a virtual hug at the end of the night, saying she was full and going to sleep. She thanked me again, and I thanked her back. Helping her helped me, moving me to the point of joyous tears.

It was a powerful experience and a profound one for me too. That night I learned that when I help others, I need them as much as they need me.

When she thinks of me, she’ll always remember that small act of kindness I did. And when I think of her, I’ll think of the same thing. I’ll think of that pizza, covered with ham and veggies, making it to a friend suffering and in need.

I’ll think of how happy it made her, not just to eat, but to know someone was looking out for her. And I’ll also think about how happy it made me to be of service, gaining much more from the experience than I gave, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

That’s service work.

Author: Chris T. is a writer and recovering alcoholic.

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