I am a dutiful person who is usually happy enough to carry out life’s basic responsibilities. I am a husband with responsibilities toward my wife, a father with responsibilities toward my children, a pastor with responsibilities toward my congregation, a neighbor with responsibilities toward the people who live around me. My success as a husband, father, pastor, and neighbor is dependent upon being dutiful in all of these relationships.
Dutiful is good, but not good enough. Living well involves duty to be sure, but it also involves delight. Living well is made up of those things I must do, but also those things I get to do. For this reason I take time every week to consider each of life’s areas of responsibility and to ask not only how I can be dutiful in that area but also how I can express delight in it. I do this by asking a simple two-part question: How can I serve and how can I surprise? (I owe “serve and surprise” to a series of articles written by C.J. Mahaney.)
Like most people, I live within a kind of system that brings structure to my life. I spend a few minutes each morning getting my day organized, deciding which of the many things I could do today I actually will do—or at least attempt to do. Once each week I take a look at life in a broad way, and this is where I prayerfully pause to ask, “How must I serve this week and how can I surprise this week?” Or “What have I got to do this this week to fulfill duty and what do I get to do this week to express delight?”
The question of service is usually quite simple. To serve my wife I need to ensure I am present in body and mind, to serve my children I need to ask them about their friendships and to make sure they are completing their homework, to serve my church I need to be present at our services and to come well-prepared to lead them, to serve my neighbors I need to spend time with them. Those are all good and basic duties that fall to me, and I am happy enough to carry them out. But I want to be more than dutiful. I want to go beyond the basic duties of my life to also express delight. I don’t want to merely serve but also to surprise.
The question of surprise takes a little more thought and creativity. It requires me to know others and to understand what brings them joy and pleasure. How can I please Aileen and let her know that she is loved? How can I surprise my children and bring them joy? How can I express delight in my church? These are the kinds of questions I ask and then, in one way or another, I answer them by turning them into actions or plotting them into time. I may choose to take certain actions in the week ahead: Buy flowers for Aileen. Rent a movie with the kids. Send a gift to someone in the church. Or I may choose to reserve time on my calendar so we can do things together: Take Michaela out for breakfast. Have a family night of silly games and activities. Invite some church families over for Sunday lunch. These actions and activities go beyond basic service to pursue and express delight.
Do you see it? Life is never less than duty, but at its best it is so much more. Duty usually comes easily enough whereas delight requires thoughtfulness, effort, and creativity. Duty can be impersonal—the duty of one father toward his children may not differ very much from the duty of another father toward his children. But delight is customized and requires study, it requires personalized knowledge (another strength of Mahaney’s approach.)
If we are to live in such a way that we bring glory to God by doing good to others, we owe it to them to serve and surprise, to fulfill duty and express delight. So who do you need to serve and surprise in the week ahead?