The Powerful Scent of Service
I keep an old, stained pair of tennis shoes by the back door for working in the yard. In part, this is because I like to be ready, and also because it’s a messy business trying to coax flowers from the clay-like soil here in Colorado Springs and I know whatever shoes I wear to garden are going to stay stained. Maybe, too, it’s because I like the reminder in those stains, those small evidences, of time spent weeding and mowing, planting and tending.
When a friend recently lamented needing to help her aunt with some yard work, I grabbed my old tennis shoes and other friends to help however we could, sure that a messy business lay ahead.
Where we expected weeds and a shaggy lawn, however, were well-defined beds of blooming flowers and grass that just needed a quick trim. So while our friend mowed her aunt’s lawn, the rest of us deadheaded the pansies and looked for any weeds to pull between the lilacs, irises, daylilies, and coneflowers. Within 20 minutes the yard looked great, the mower was put away, and our friend’s aunt was beckoning us inside with glasses of ice tea.
I left my old tennis shoes at the door and we sat down with Amelia, newly-widowed in her seventies, chatty, and eager for company. She talked about her garden and grandkids as I grew more and more antsy. I tried to listen but admittedly kept sneaking glances at my shoes and my watch. She doesn’t really need us, I thought. I could be home working on my own yard. By the time we broke away, I realized a small resentment had surfaced in my heart and grown with each sip of iced tea. I felt ungracious and guilty, but still frustrated in not accomplishing what I’d expected: a yard transformation, an act of goodness in Jesus’s name. What a waste of time, I thought. I didn’t even get my tennis shoes any dirtier than they already are.
A week later, I received this note: “Aunt Amelia is absolutely renewed by the attention. Thank you for spending an hour with us. She needed that more than the yard work.”
The letter reminded me it’s a messy business whenever you attempt to do anything in Jesus’s name. Often the true service may be something entirely different than you expect, not some grand thing for God like you intend, not resulting in any evidence like a stain on a shoe, or the transformation of a yard or even someone else’s heart. Sometimes the service extracted is imperceptible, and sometimes it’s your own heart God is working on, reminding you that it’s not the service itself that’s important but your willingness to follow Jesus, to conform to him and be like him.
I think that’s the reason Christ is called our Rose of Sharon, our Lily of the Valley (Song of Solomon 2:1). His love is round us all the time, not always visible to some like the stain on a shoe, but even more powerful: a lingering scent of love that served from Garden to Garden, Heaven to Hell and back to Heaven again, from one end of the cross to the other―a scent that has power in others’ hearts when it is first breathed by our own.