Today, I challenge you to develop a servant heart. I know I will get some quizzical looks and some furrowed brows. And yes, I said the word servant. Give me a chance to clarify. It is difficult to imagine willingly putting strangers before ourselves as a general principle. Especially if those strangers dont even want us in their lives. But to be an effective social worker, it is necessary.
The term servant evokes negative images and thoughts from people who equate servitude with slavery. Humans throughout history have forced other human beings into slavery for their own gain, stripped them of their rights and dignity and treated them abominably. That is involuntary slavery. And it is the highest form of narcissism to believe that any one class, race or culture is superior to another. Servitude denotes an agreement and in this case it is a decision. I am talking about having within yourself a heart for others, a compelling desire to change the world by example and deed. And not expecting reward.
Mahatma Ghandi challenged us all with his words: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” His humility and sacrifice paved the way for India’s Independence. Paying little attention to his own needs, he demonstrated non violent civil disobedience. In his sacrifice, he demonstrated a servant heart.
Mother Theresa gave up everything to live among the street people in Calcutta, providing love, support and services to the poorest of the poor. Her mission was to provide food and medical help to the sick and needy. In the early years, she herself often went hungry and had to beg for food. She cared more about the hurting, the poor and the sick than she cared about her own needs.
I am not saying that social work is the same as working in the slums of Calcutta, with the danger of facing starvation or contracting disease. However it is important to recognize that there is a measure of selflessness that is the practice of social work . And those that chose to walk this path will never get the praise and gratitude they deserve. It is important for social workers to not enter the field looking for extrinsic validation. It does not often come. I wish that were not true. But it is.
So I call out to you, social worker. I challenge you to understand that those broken families you are meeting at 7:00 at night ( because that’s when mom gets home from her shift at burger king), didn’t ask for your help. Although deep inside they know their family is broken, they are afraid to admit it to you. They express that fear through anger. Don’t take it personally. They do not trust you yet. They are afraid you will see them as damaged and take their children away if they admit that they need help.
So as you drive to their home, thinking about your own family eating dinner while staring at your empty chair, don’t expect an outpouring of thanks from your clients. You won’t get it now. You may never get it. On some rare occasions , I have had former clients seek me out years later to thank me for working with them to assist with the healing in their family. But mostly you must find the intrinsic joy within yourself when your hard work and sacrifice helps to move a family towards lasting change.
I have seen you discouraged and heavy with the weight of the burden. Your own sacrifices do not seem to be acknowledged and certainly not rewarded. Not outwardly. But like the a construction worker skilled in pouring cement foundations. You go to a job and pour a strong and level foundation. Then you leave to go to the next job. You might not ever see the beautiful house that is built upon that foundation. But you must know in your heart that without your meticulous labor, creating a strong base, the house would not stand.
I encourage you to develop a servant heart. Remember why you decided to take on a career riddled with stress, heartache and personal sacrifice. Once your eyes are on your vision and not the thankless nature of the path you are on, it will be easier to keep walking.
Mother Theresa took a poem written by someone else and modified it to encourage herself and others. It was posted outside of the children’s home she ran as well as in her own room. She has expressed the point far more eloquently than I could. I am sharing it below.
People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered
Forgive them anyway
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives
Be kind anyway
If you are successful you will win some unfaithful friends and genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere people will deceive you
Be honest and sincere anyway
What you spent years creating , people could destroy overnight
Be creative anyway
If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous
Be happy anyway
The good you do today will often be forgotten
Do good anyway
Give the best you have and it will never be enough
Give your best anyway
In the final analysis it is between you and God
It was never between you and them anyway
My personal musings when I read this is that Mother Theresa was also human. She kept this in her room to remind her why she walked the selfless path. So on those occasions when you feel that frustration coming after performing thankless sacrifice. Relax. You too are human. Forgive yourself, take some time for self care, read Mother Theresa poem and then get back on the path. I will be walking right beside you.