The Three Pillars of Service

Service is like peeing your pants. Everyone sees the results, but only you get to feel the warmth.” This turn of phrase from back when I was a Boy Scout is something that has always stuck with me. When it was time to do another service project, sometimes we needed to pump ourselves up a bit, and humor was a very powerful tool. As an adult, I try to keep in mind the words from Mahatma Gandhi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Therefore, in my eyes, service is a three-pillar system: providing service to others, providing service to yourself, and being accepting of service. 

Service to Others

This is the most common service and the one you likely expected to read about when you started this article. Marie Osmond said, “Being of service to others is what brings true happiness.” I have found this to be true in my life. I have been able to provide service for many people both through family and friend service projects, as well as through organizations like my church and the Boy Scouts. I have had incredible examples of service to others in my life as well. Service can be something that takes but a few minutes or something that takes several hours or days. It can be something simple, or something back-breaking. However you do service, it’s important to do it with love. Audrey Hepburn said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

My sister spent some time in Alberta, Canada as a volunteer for her church. While there, a large river flooded the town she was staying in. While she and her apartment were fine, many homes were destroyed. She was part of a team that spent several days cleaning up mud and water from homes, and trying to salvage people’s lives and property. This was a huge undertaking and she told us of the exhaustion and sorrow felt by all of those involved. Ultimately she was excited that she was able to help and make the lives of these people she was serving a little bit better. She jumped right in and worked hard because there was a need.

I have been lucky enough to have incredible examples of service in my life. My mother has always had an altruistic side and has been a prime example. She has always been the first to: send a card when she knows someone is suffering through a trying time, send food to a family who is enduring a trial, or go without something so that her children are taken care of. She does this willingly, without wanting or needing recognition. One time, in particular, I remember her hearing through the grapevine that one of our neighbor’s parents died. This had just barely happened, and not many people were aware of it. She baked some cookies, wrote a sweet card, and delivered them to the neighbors to let them know we cared about them and were with them during their trying time. The neighbor was so grateful and appreciative of the thoughtfulness of my mother.

My grandfather is also a prime example of true service. Throughout his long life, he has been of the disposition to literally give the shirt off his back. Besides raising his own 11 sons, he also raised 3 boys who were not his own, as his own. They are treated the same to this day as his flesh and blood. He organized clothing drives, picked up furniture from family members who were getting rid of it to give to someone who needed it. He loaned his vehicles to children and neighbors who need to get to work. He volunteered to take family members, neighbors, etc to their miscellaneous appointments when they didn’t have a ride. One thing that really stands out to me is his genealogical work.  Now you may not count this as a service, but I do because not only has he compiled histories of our ancestors for everyone in the family to read and know about, he has also helped many of his family do the same. In my eyes, genealogy helps us remember those who came before us and connects us to them. This service keeps their memories alive. The Disney movie “Coco” talks a lot about the importance of this genealogy, remembering our ancestors, and the importance of family. The whole time I watched it, I was reminded of my grandpa and the great service he has done to our family by keeping these memories alive. My grandpa takes service and family more seriously than anyone else I’ve ever met. Even now at his advanced age, and less than spry health, he still tries to help everyone he comes across and still tries to get the family together for barbecues.

When I was in the Boy Scouts, we did more service projects than I can really count. We did small things like cleaning the trails as we hiked, raking neighbor’s leaves, and mowing people’s lawns. One of the more intense projects was for an elderly neighbor whose house was being repossessed and who would have nowhere to go. Someone donated a piece of land, and others donated supplies and expertise, and together with us Scouts, we built this woman a small, but functional 1 bedroom house for free. It was exhaustive, backbreaking work, but for this woman, it made her whole world. Service does not have to be this grand. Small acts of kindness are just as important.

Have you ever been “elfed?” You probably have, you just called it something else. At Christmas time, we would pick a family in our area that we knew needed a little extra help, we would wrap presents, stick them in a bag, and doorbell ditch the family with the bag of gifts. We called it “elfing” because of the time of year, and feeling like we were helping Santa by being his elves. We were recipients of this exchange as well, and it was so lovely and exciting to receive these sweet gifts. One time in particular that stands out to me is when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. My mom told me about a family in our area that was struggling and she asked if I had some toys I wanted to share with these other kids. I went through my toys, found some nice ones that I thought the kids would like, and gave them to her. She bought some food items and other small gifts, and we put everything in a big black garbage bag. We went to their house and I was assigned to ring the doorbell and run to the car. From our vantage point on the street, I was able to see their faces as they came to the door. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of those kids as long as I live. They were so shocked and excited. 

Have you ever done the 12 Days of Christmas for someone? This is where you give a small thoughtful gift for each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Perhaps you have assisted with an Angel Tree, clothing drive, food drive, hygienic supplies drive, etc. These are kind, simple, and thoughtful service projects that get you in the spirit of the holiday and help those in need. Most of these things are holiday-specific, but that does not mean you can only do service during the holidays. Service can and should be a year-round, 24/7, 365 job.

Have you ever given someone a “Heart Attack?” I’m not talking about that time your sister jumped out of the darkness of the basement and you were sure your heart stopped, but “Heart Attacking” shows how much you care about someone. Cut out paper hearts in different sizes and colors, however many you want, write complimentary phrases on them, and stick them to someone’s door. Then ring the doorbell and run. The person on the receiving end of this feels so loved and appreciated. Again, it’s a simple act on your part, but it can change the entire outcome of the other person’s day. Maya Angelou stated, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maybe you don’t have the ability to donate your time or strength to serve others. This does not exclude you from being able to assist. You can send a kind and thoughtful card to brighten someone’s day. You can send a text message or make a quick phone call and it could make all the difference. You can make a monetary donation, or set up a fund for others to donate to someone. is an excellent place where you are able to set up a campaign to help yourself, and more importantly donations for others so they can receive help with their Good Cause. 

I am a huge Cinephile (it means I love movies.) There are many beautiful movies that illustrate service, and honestly, I could go on for a very long time about them, but one of the most poignant to me is “The Ultimate Gift.” This movie begins with a spoiled, bratty, trust-fund kid whose father dies. He left his father’s entire fortune, but he cannot take possession of it until he follows through on a series of tasks designed to help him become selfless and to learn the importance of serving others. He goes on quite the journey during the film, including meeting a young mother and her daughter who is going through cancer treatment. He learns the importance of family and the Ultimate Gift of love by serving others.

Service to Yourself

Audre Lorde said, “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” I know, you might be thinking, this guy is nuts. “Service to myself?” But hear me out. Who do you spend the most time with every day? Nope, it’s not your spouse, not your dog, not your co-workers, and not your kids. I’ll give you a hint; look into that shiny thing on the wall in your bathroom… It’s you!! In all seriousness, taking care of yourself is as important and some may even argue more important than taking care of others. Now, I am not advocating becoming a hermit or ignoring the plight of everyone else because you believe you are better than them. What I mean is if your life is unstable and messed up, it can impact your ability to care for others. Example: if you are constantly depressed and unable to get out of bed, how are you going to get out and help someone rake their leaves? 

I understand this can be difficult to allow ourselves to do. After all, Nathaniel Branden said, “Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is more important than the judgment we pass on ourselves.” We need to allow ourselves to heal and get to a place where we are able to function the best we can, so we can help others. Self-Care is incredibly important and incredibly valuable. It is not selfish. It allows us to have the mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual health necessary to take care of others. Pick something every day for yourself. Maybe for you, that’s reading a book not for school, or other education, but purely for pleasure.  Maybe it’s you going to a concert of your favorite band with friends, even though your kids are out of school. It could be you having a spa day, getting your nails done, a manicure, pedicure, whatever floats your boat. The point is, do something for yourself to get yourself to a place where you are ready and capable to help others.

A common turn of phrase in I.T. Departments around the world, is “Did you try turning it off and then on again?” I think that’s something we need to be conscious of ourselves. After all, there is an argument that the human body is a complex biological machine. Anne Lamott said something in this vein, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it, including you.” So, how do we unplug? Is it literally unplugging from our devices? Sure. But I think it’s more. It’s taking that time for yourself. It’s unplugging from life and responsibilities for a short time so you get back to a place where you are operating at maximum efficiency.

If you’ve ever been on a plane, part of the safety demonstration includes the oxygen masks that may descend into the cabin in the event of an emergency. As part of the script for the demonstration, they say to make sure you put your own mask on first prior to helping any children or others next to you. This has always been an interesting thought to me. I thought, why wouldn’t I want to help my child first to make sure they are ok? The reality is, if I pass out from lack of oxygen, no one is getting help. This is similar to what we need to do with ourselves in regards to service. We need to make sure we are serving and taking care of ourselves, (not exclusively), to make sure we can help others. Eleanor Brownn said, “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” “Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” These quotes by Jack Kornfield and Lucille Ball respectively really nail the point home for me. Taking care of yourself is just as important if not more important than taking care of others.

Being Accepting of Service

“To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” Mr. Mark Twain said those words, and does it not describe service most beautifully? We talked about providing service to others, and service to ourselves, but what about when service is done unto us? A kind gesture of service when you are in need is priceless. Pride can lower the value of both your joy and the joy of the one providing the service. We must be able to accept the help of someone else and as Max Greenfield said, “Acceptance is always a good word.”

There have been times in my family’s life where we needed some help. We didn’t advertise this, yet some truly kind-hearted people somehow knew. Whether it was the “elfing” when I was a child or an envelope of cash with a sweet card, we have been very blessed with amazing people in our lives. Imagine for a moment if we had said no and refused the gifts? I’m not talking about the polite, “oh you shouldn’t have,” or, “I can’t accept that.” I’m talking about straight-up refusing to accept the kind-hearted gift. What right does any of us have to defuse the joy of someone who thought of you? Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.”

Pride is a difficult emotion. While it is important to have pride in yourself and your achievements, when your pride takes away from other’s happiness it becomes harmful. John C. Maxwell articulated this well in the following quote, “There are two kinds of pride. ‘Good pride’ represents our dignity and self-respect. ‘Bad pride’ is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.” If you view yourself as better than, you are denying the “good pride” of others.

Follow the Three Pillars of Service

Service to others, service to yourself, and acceptance of service are the three pillars of service. Each day that we are privileged to live on planet earth, there will be presented good causes that will allow us to take part in one or all of the three pillars of service. Be kind to others and be willing to give of yourself when you can, to make someone’s life better. Be kind to yourself and make sure your needs are taken care of so you can help others most effectively. Lastly, be willing to accept the gift of service gracefully. George Orwell said, “Happiness can only exist in acceptance.” Remember, if one of your pillars is weak, that which they hold up (ourselves) is also weak. If we can keep our three pillars strong, we are able to reach a better plane of life and true happiness.

Author: Elijah Brandley