A spirituality of service

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Our world, in recent days has not been plagued by a lack of resources or an increase of want, but rather a lack of purpose and hope. The Hebrew Scriptures declare that “without a vision the people perish.” Indeed without purpose and vision it is hard to find meaning in life.

deployed as a chaplain with Special Operations Central Command (SOCCENT), I was given the opportunity to conduct key leader engagements with local Imams and village elders. Over a meal we discussed the story of the Good Samaritan wherein the least likely of characters becomes a neighbor to the man in need. Our conclusion was that true spirituality is lived out in works of service rather than words of inspiration or noble ideas. Purpose is found in service. Spirituality has some common ground with religion, but is characterized by a connection to something beyond yourself, to others, and to a higher purpose.

As a chaplain, one of the hardest things I do is conduct memorial services following a suicide. One of the questions that is often present is “why are so many young people struggling to live?” I would suggest that one reason is that young adults are still figuring out who they are and have fewer life experiences to help them through disappointments and painful life experiences. Two things in particular, have been shown to help people overcome painful life experiences: spiritual practice and service.

Spirituality, while often overlooked or dismissed, is a key element in mental health. Spirituality guides the way we live, and integrates the whole person. As a chaplain, I see a lot of brokenness. Spiritual brokenness can often leave a person “stuck” in overcoming painful experiences in life. Spiritual care, however, can actually help people with problems find purpose, healing, and a renewed sense of meaning in their lives. It has been shown to be a key protective factor against suicide and coping with traumatic experiences.

Spirituality can be developed by learning how to give back to others. People who give more, tend to be happier and live longer, and have better mental health. This type of spirituality involves giving back or “generativity.” Generativity is characterized by our service to others, and involves raising and guiding those who follow while contributing to the world around us. Like the Good Samaritan, it is the need to care for one’s neighbor. Being a part of a faith community may help one be both more generative and spiritual, in that it builds a sense of belonging and optimism when dealing with the world around us.

Think of how this article is opposite of so many of the messages in the world today. Often we are told that having more wealth or success will make us happier. I have seen firsthand that success is no predictor of happiness. A spirituality of service may give a person both meaning and life satisfaction born of something greater than themselves. I am a fan of Leon Legothetis of the Kindness Diaries who became disenchanted with his high-stakes investment career and left it all to journey across the world depending solely on acts of kindness. He found the meaning of life in the kindness of other people.

My suggestion is that if you want to be really happy you must take your very best and give it away. It is in serving others that we find real meaning. I have found that my connection to God is lived out in the way I treat others. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor was not the one who lived closest to the man in need, but the one who showed the greatest care and compassion for the need he encountered. If we want to find purpose in this life we have to give more and take less. A connection to a higher purpose will help us find meaning in making a difference in the world around us.

The Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) Chapel has several offerings for the Catholic and Protestant communities. If you are interested in participating, please visit our Facebook page Whiteman AFB Chapel for the full listing of events, or contact U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. James McConnell or Staff Sgt. Ronald Murray III at the Chapel Annex at 660- 687-3652.