I'm used to thinking of personal refreshment in terms of spa days and vacations. Today, I remembered a bit of wisdom that reoriented my thinking. The flair moment came in the form of sweaty boys and mulch.
On my drive downtown this morning, I saw a group of young men spreading mulch in the flowerbeds that lined the sidewalk. They were laughing, embarrassed maybe, as the cars at the stoplight stopped and observed them. The wheelbarrow of mulch wobbled between one boy's arms, and the pitchfork in another boy's hands took aim and missed the pile altogether.
I was thankful for their work to renovate those beds. They were giving that space some flair. And I knew, too, that the work would bring some flair to them as well.
Community service is like that.
It's service that intends to renovate us as we renovate our community. There's something about taking care of a community—those that need help, those that are suffering, or those places that need cleaning—that renews and refreshes the spirit, too.
As I drove past those boys, I remembered a verse from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58:
“If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.”
When I spend myself on the needs of my community, I ironically find a form of refreshment. My night becomes the noonday; my darkness turns to light. The promise of God guiding, satisfying, and strengthening me in that process represents the paradox of Christianity: you find yourself as you lose yourself; you become fully alive as you die to your own self-obsession.
You would think, in sacrificial service, that a frame would weaken, that a body would exhaust itself. But instead, the strongest frame, the most nourished individual, is the one who serves others.
Watching those boys spread mulch on that sun-scorched sidewalk reminded me that serving a community, even in small ways, contributes to our well-being. When we find a need outside of ourselves that we can meet, we can renovate, not just another person, but ourselves.
Living with flair means I meet the needs of others and delight in how it refreshes me. Spas and vacations are great, but greater still might be taking care of a neighbor (or spreading mulch in her flowerbed).