When we as professionals work with terminal patients and sick loved ones there is often a good intentioned feeling that we are helping them. Helping can make us feel good about ourselves, but the difference between helping versus serving someone can be profound.
Author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen, beautifully sums up the difference between helping versus serving with her quote, “Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak. When you fix you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”
Let’s take a closer look at this concept. There is a profound difference between helping and serving. Helping is based on inequality and draws from strength toward weakness. Helping results in debt of the spirit and causes depletion, hence burnout. Helping may leave the person who is the helper with a feeling of self-satisfaction, but the person is working from the attitude of brokenness. This attitude creates a distance between the helper and person being helped. Helping requires mastery and expertise from specialists in their respective areas. Helping is the work of the ego, and the ego likes to judge and feel superior. Helping is viewed as working on curing the person being assisted.
On the other hand, serving is based on equality and draws from wholeness to wholeness, which results in restoring worth to the person on the receiving end. Serving causes renewal and a feeling of gratitude. The service-oriented person works from a place of trust and integrity, which creates a connectedness and willingness to touch the other person’s life in a meaningful way.The act of serving requires surrendering to the mystery and awe of the experience, a willingness to be used for the betterment of the situation at hand. Serving is the work of the soul rather than the ego. Service-oriented people see life as an evolving mystery that is rooted in the holy and sacred, and the object is to heal rather than cure the person being assisted.
A favorite story of service from my book, Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to theEmotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying ( Balboa Press, 2013) www.soulservice.info, is when in the 1980’s a former hospital CFO, Clyde Johnson, became aware of a considerable discharge problem for his hospital regarding AIDS patients. Their families had often disowned them and their partners had died. In the beginning of the AIDS crisis, people were often afraid to be in the same room with the HIV infected person. So Clyde decided to open an AIDS hospice in Atlanta, Georgia. They wanted a home like setting, so two old homes were renovated in mid-town Atlanta. They kept the charm but supplied he hospitals with a high tech medical delivery system. Although Clyde was definitely fulfilling a need for this service, he was getting a tremendous spiritual and emotional connection to the patients as he got to know them personally and befriended them as they often talked on the front porch of the hospice. After their deaths he would grieve them as well.
Social worker Sally Sutton points out that serving her patients often provides them what they need to accomplish their goals and then often assisting them in the process. When you are working form a place of compassion to relieve someone’s suffering it allows you to discover a power within yourself. The healing power of love is never wasted.