Humble Service

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when I was going through dive training, I was truly humbled by an event that almost changed the course of my career and life for good. I was attempting a phase of training known as “Pool Competency” or “Pool Comp,” one of the more arduous and selective phases of training. Here is how Pool Comp goes. You enter the water with a double hose regulator, twin air tanks on your back, a mask on your face, a weight belt around your waist and fins on your feet. You commence crawling on the bottom in a straight line for 10 yards, breathing from your air tanks; then turn around a crawl back. Back and forth you go, waiting for the attack to come from above. The issue with Pool Comp, just like with anything else in life, is not the actual attack, it’s the waiting that gets you. However, for me, I was already a qualified civilian diver with countless dives, even some in the ocean with little to no visibility off the coast of my home state of Massachusetts, where the water is not so warm. So when I jumped into the water that day, I was confident and far from being humble. I was overconfident. I was cocky. When Jesus said in Luke, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” he was talking directly to me.

I jumped into the water that day knowing that I was going to pass. Almost laughing about it to myself how easy it would be. How good I was. How I was above all of this. Nothing was further from the truth. The instructor attacked me with such force; he took off my fins, mask and spun me around head over heels on the first attack. On the second attack, he ripped the regulator out of my mouth and tied a knot in it, one that I easily unravelled to regain my air supply. On the third attack, the same thing happened but on the fourth, the instructor tied a knot that could not be unravelled and I started to inhale some water, while my head was turned precariously to the side trying to breath through the knot. Approaching panic, I undid my weight belt, placed it on the back of my knees, and ditched my tanks (the process of taking the tanks over your head to deal with the knotted regulator problem). over my head to better negotiate the knot and in a flurry of bubbles was brought to the surface by the instructor and failed the test. I failed the second attempt as well; a procedural error of not removing my weight belt before ditching my tanks. For those of us who failed that day, and there were many, we were secured for the weekend to the barracks so that we could think about what we had done, help each other with wooden tanks, and see if we could pass the test again on Monday. If we did not pass, our journey would be over. We would be kicked out of training. Mission failure.

When we serve others and humble ourselves, we enter a position of strength and meaning. During the weekend, the individuals that had failed Pool Comp spent the entire time going through procedures, practicing getting attacked (in the classroom), and going through every scenario over and over again. The power of that weekend was not that I helped myself, but that I helped others who were in the same situation that I was in. I served others from a position of humility. Even though I was an officer, I was in the same boat as everyone who had failed that day. We were all equals. Just like we are all equal in the eyes of our Lord. Jesus went on to say in Luke, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Doing things for others and expecting something in return is not humble service. It is self-service. Examples of self service are everywhere in our lives. When you give a gift and expect a thank you and are mad when you don’t get it. Or when you let someone in front of you in traffic and they don’t even lift a hand to thank you, Can you think of any examples in your life? When you expect something in return of your service, even if it is a thank you, you are not serving the other person. You are serving yourself. God teaches us to invite people to our house that will not be able to invite you back to their house. Perhaps because they don’t have a house at all. This is true humble service. What you get out of it is the satisfaction that you are serving the Lord and doing something for the sake of doing the right thing. Getting anything in return should not even be on your mind.

When I stepped back into the pool on Monday morning, after a long weekend of eating humble pie with my teammates, I was shocked to see the hardest instructor waiting for me in the pool. His nickname was Satan, so I will let you draw your own conclusions as to what I imagined my fate would be that day. I entered the pool with a quiet and humble confidence. I was ready for this. The arrogance had changed to a quiet and humble state of focus that, when it happens from time to time, I welcome it’s presence. It’s the feeling you get when you feel that God is with you. That feeling of comfort, confidence and just “being there.” We have all felt that way from time to time in our lives; it’s up to us to cultivate that feeling and work at it, everyday.

We all want what is best for our children, partly because they are the reflections of our own lives when our lives are gone, and partly because we simply love them and want what is best for them. As you know, we have a child who is on the Autism Spectrum; when first diagnosed we were devastated because we did not know what the future would hold for her. It was a tough pill to swallow; but as with the dive training, humility and service was the antidote to the situation. I remember taking a phone call from someone who I did not know very well who had a child with autism. During the course of my conversation, I said how “lucky” he was to have a child with autism, thinking about our child as I said it. It was a turning point moment for me. I realized that I was no longer angry and feeling sorry for myself and my family. I had humbled myself to the point of feeling truly lucky that I had a child with autism. A child that has taught me more about life than all of the psychology books that I ever read, all of the other life experiences and mentors that I have ever observed.

Being a humble servant to one another and to the Lord takes self knowledge, dedication, discipline, and daily execution. Daily execution. Simply saying that you are going to humbly serve is not enough. You have to get out there and get it. Make a list of people that you should talk to on a periodic basis. Call them even if you don’t need anything from them. Call them BECAUSE you don’t need anything from them. Call them or make contact with them just to see how they are. Serve one another from a position of humility. Take the lowest ranking seat at the table. And always remember to exhale on your way up to the water’s surface.

“Lean into it!”

Dr. N