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In the Service of Life


In my Bahá’í inspired life coaching practice, people often ask about the concept of service and how it differs from codependence.

Where does selflessness fit?

Where does being selfless cross the line into being a doormat?

Many years back, I discovered this incredibly insightful article which explained it perfectly so I reprint it here.  It’s by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen.  

In recent years the question “how can I help?” has become meaningful to many people.But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider.Perhaps the real question is not “how can I help? But “how can I serve?”

Serving is different from helping.  Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals.  When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength.  If I’m attentive to what’s going on inside of me when I’m helping, I find that I’m always helping someone who’s not as strong as I am, who is needier than I am.  People feel this inequality.

When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.  When I help I am very aware of my own strength.  But we don’t serve with our strength, we serve with ourselves.  We draw from all of our experiences.  Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve.  The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life.  The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me.  Service is a relationship between equals.

Helping incurs debt.  When you help someone they own you one.  But serving, like healing, is mutual.  There is no debt.  I am as served as the personal I am serving.  When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction.  When I serve, I have a feeling of gratitude.  These are very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing.  When I fix a person I perceive them as broken, and their broken-ness requires me to act.  When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them.  When I serve I see and trust that wholeness. It is what I am responding to and collaborating with.

There is distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing.  Fixing is a form of judgments.  All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, and experience of difference.  In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a more distance.  We cannot serve at a distance.  We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch.  This is Mother Teresa’s basic message.  We serve life not because it is broken but because it is holy.

Hope you found this as insightful as I did!

You might also find this helpful:


I want to leave you with a quote from the Bahá’í Writings as a final thought:

The service of the friends belongs to God, not to them.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 61)

To learn more about codependence and how it is often masked as service, you may find this article interesting:

Codependent Characteristics

What are your thoughts?  Post your comments below.