The plaque was above the oven in the “soup” kitchen. The manager of the kitchen pointed the sign out as he gave us directions on preparing and serving the meal. Every person who came in was to be treated as a king or queen. Every person was to be treated with dignity and honor. If they had a problem with the food, we were to do our best to accommodate them, as best we could. I was thankful for that attitude that was evident in all the people serving. But there was something deeper, these men knew what it was like to be in the receiving line. They knew the power of someone seeing you and treating you like a king even though you were high or smelled like a conglomeration of many unpleasant street smells. They knew the power of being treated with dignity, even after they had asked for help and then walked away from it. They were there because of the love and respect they were shown in their lowest moments. The man who was doling out our jobs, described how he used to pan handle and get enough to ride the subways all day long. He finally decided he wanted life to look different and got into the program this place had for men to detox, and then receive training to do life differently. All the men served at different spots in the “soup” kitchen, some in the line, others in distribution in the park, some in pick up from restaurants, depending on where they were in their journey in the program. Watching them, you knew they remembered. They knew people’s stories and showed such great compassion to others who were still on the streets. Many of the clients had mental illness and the men in the program seemed to know their stories and look out for them. It was a beautiful example of the brokenness being poured out to make something beautiful.
My friend came home from that trip and made us all plaques for our kitchens. “Serve like you are serving a king.” I enthusiastically hung it up where I would see it often. I wanted to remember that lesson. When I look at it, I am transported back to the “soup” kitchen where it seemed somehow easier to enthusiastically keep that mind set. Every person through that line I made it my mission to love and serve them as if they were a king or queen. I was very intentional during that 24 hour period. Each meal I served, each person I talked with that came in from the street, I treated as if they were royalty, unfortunately, there were others that I was impatient with that were traveling or serving with me and then when I got home my serving of meals was not quite up to the intentionality of making sure my family felt like kings. I was unable to carry that lesson over to those who could help themselves, and serve themselves. If I deemed that you needed help I was all in, but when I saw that you could do it yourself my patience was short, my annoyance quick. I would feel it rather personally when treated like a servant. Not sure where I read it but one time I read or heard from someone, you can tell how well you are doing at having a servant heart by your reaction to someone treating you like one. Sigh… wow, why was it so much easier to be a servant at the soup kitchen with the homeless and down and out, but my own family and those in my daily life, not so much.
The more I thought about it, I realized I love the feeling I get when I serve “the least of these.” I like who I become in the situation. There is a lot of positive interaction because it is short and focused. That is why I am there. We are there with a united purpose for a certain amount of time that I have designated and chosen. Daily life is very different. Opportunities to serve come at all sorts of times and sometimes interrupt what I am seeing as my purpose at the moment. There is not much control over it. People get hungry every day, three meals a day, plus desire snacks in between. There is not always gratitude, sometimes people can be ungrateful, or rude, or demanding. Do I serve like I am serving a king then? The man in the kitchen did not give us criteria for the sign. It was for all who entered into that building, all who served and all who were serving. I had no thought of being passive aggressive there with huffing and puffing or tone when someone was rude or demanding. I had no desire to lecture the people of manners or gratitude, but my own people, I am tempted to put limitations and expectations on how and when I serve them, and what their role and response should be. The people in my daily life, it is easy to decide whether they deserve to be served as a king. That child asking when’s dinner when they see me doing fifty things at once, or the lady in the line who was rude, can I serve them as a I would a king? I want to remember that that is my purpose, all the rest is details. These are all opportunities to serve the King, who comes to us in all different disguises. The more I choose to love and serve without criteria and expectation, the freer I am. As Bob Goff says, “Give love away like you are made of it, because you are.”