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Sometimes You Have to Stop Being Just a Servant

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I was speaking at a major Christian University about building healthy relationships recently and a student approached me with a problem.  He said, “You teach mutuality and reciprocity are important components in 

healthy relationships but I get confused because I’ve been taught I need to be a servant without looking for anything in return.” 

He went on to share that he’d been practicing servant-hood with his college roommate all semester.  He drove him places he needed to go, helped him with his study skills, lent him money, and even straightened out his side of the bedroom.  However, his roommate never reciprocated.  His roommate never offered to help pay for the gas.  He didn’t offer to serve him or ever ask him how he might help meet some of his needs.

As much as this young college student longed to reflect Christ he found himself struggling. Although he wanted to biblically love his roommate, he also started to feel taken advantage of and resentful.  He wasn’t sure if he needed to speak up and tell his roommate how he felt or confess his negative emotions to God and continue to practice selflessness by serving his roommate.

Jesus did teach and demonstrate servant-hood to his followers as a model of leadership.  Yet, Jesus also had real relationships with people where he allowed himself to be served.  Mary and Martha, Jesus’ friends, served him.  His disciples also served him at times.  When Jesus was the only one giving it wasn’t a mutual friendship, it was a ministry.   

This is where this young man got confused and perhaps we as Christian leaders and counselors aren’t making things clear enough for those under our care.  Servant-hood is an important discipline for our spiritual maturity and to reflect Christ to others.  However when we serve someone and there is no reciprocity or mutuality, the relationship can’t deepen and usually becomes very lopsided. Jesus gladly served others, but when they never reciprocated with even a “thank you” he noticed.  (See the story of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19.)

I challenged this young man to consider whether or not his continuous serving his roommate might actually do his roommate more harm than good.  He was enabling his roommate’s blindness to his own feelings of entitlement as well as his growing immaturity and selfishness. The apostle Paul speaks about mutuality and reciprocity in many of the “one another” passages of Scripture.  We are called to loving relationships, and servant-hood is part of that process but not the only part. 

I encouraged this young man to work on letting go of his anger and resentment but also wire up his courage to have an honest conversation with his roommate.  He might need to say something like, “I think I’ve tried really hard to be a good friend to you.  For example, I see you have a need and I drive you or let you use my car when you have to get something from the store.  I have given you study tips and helped you out when you were short of cash. I think that’s what good friends do for one another. But I’ve been hurt and confused that you’ve never once asked what you could do for me.  When you saw I was sick in bed with the flu last week you never asked if I needed anything or could help me.  That hurt and it felt like you didn’t care about me.  Friendship goes two ways and I’m wondering why you’re very willing to receive from me, but you are not so willing to give back?”

His roommate might not like that challenge, but if he delivers it in a caring, compassionate way, it is an opportunity for his roommate to press pause, reflect on his own behavior and hopefully begin to see that if you want to have lasting godly friendships you too must give back.   

As Biblical counselors how do you teach the importance of mutuality and reciprocity in relationships, especially to young people?  

Posted on January 30, 2012