Service 101: Finding My Religion

service faith religious work

Ever since I took on the job of Service Guru I’ve been doing a lot of work. Beyond the obvious stuff—learning the menu, getting to know the employees and the customers, and coming up with business strategies—I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. Does my work in restaurants have the power to transform me into someone better? Does giving great service require I give generously of myself, put others before me, and be forgiving in everything I do?

Take, for example, the other service industry professionals. The flourishing minister or rabbi who must be humble and in control of his or her weaknesses. The successful butler who is accommodating and always gracious. The thriving caregiver, dedicated and understanding when a patient’s discomfort causes them to be cruel. To be of service, the individual is charged to uphold a lofty set of standards for those around them, even if they don’t know the people they serve by name.

I know service isn’t for everyone. But the more I think about living a life of service, the more I realize I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for a very long time. When I was little I wanted to be a teacher. In middle school, I dreamed of joining the Peace Corps and making a difference in the world.

Later, when I was a freshman in high school, I fell for a born again Christian named Rocky and started dreaming about missionary work. The problem was every time I was around the polished senior with a pooka shell necklace and leather coat, I kept thinking about the off-the-books-stuff like the missionary position. I went to Rocky’s youth group meetings in hopes of finding guidance from God and secretly listened to Prince’s Dirty Mind album after prayer circle. I did good deeds, prayed for others, and quietly suffered with shame as I felt a growing wave of longing for the affections of the boys around me.

As I struggled to define my faith, I wondered how a person could hold God in their heart and proceed in life without fault. How could I love God and yell at my brother or sister? How could I love God and make big mistakes?

Decades have passed since I defined myself by a particular religion (I’ve dabbled in many of the greatest hits and kicked around in some of the oldies and goldies).  And yet, ever since embracing the concept of working in restaurants as a Higher Form of service—albeit on a plate-to-plate level—I’ve been feeling that same kind of moral and ethical confusion I experienced when I was a teenager at the beginning of my conflicted, coming of age journey. How can I maintain a high set of personal standards in a thoroughly chaotic and unfair world?

religious service work

How can I uphold the principals of humility, compassion, and selflessness in my daily interactions with perfect strangers? If I believe that it’s important to treat every customer and employee with love and respect, how is it possible to not uphold those very same values in EVERYTHING I do?

If I can be generous and humble with my friends and family and can smile at a person who nearly knocked me down at the restaurant, why is it I yell obscenities at a person who cuts me off in traffic? Am I being to hard on myself? Am I being too lenient? Where is the balance?

More importantly: am I taking this service thing a little too far?

For better or for worse, I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. But I’m working on it. Just the other day, instead of moaning in frustration when that pack of tourists blocked my way at the farmers market, I took a deep breath, a wide step, and slid right past them. And you know what? It kind of felt like dancing.

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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

24 Comments

  1. This post brought tears to my eyes. I think your searching is wonderful and how amazing that your work has led you to ask so many questions. You will find the answers you are looking for, as long as you keep searching. The bible says, “Seek and you will find”. I think you’re on the right path.

    Really, this is one of the best and most thought provoking posts I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you for your honesty.

  2. Brooke, you do step out on a limb here only for those who do not look within. I love how you take a good hard look at your actions and share them with us. I think it is a very rare soul (if any exist) that can give of themselves with good intention all the time. As a mom, I encounter struggles and great rewards daily. It is hard to keep giving ourselves to others all the time. I bet that is why they invented spas!
    I like what you say about they dance, I know that feeling well :)
    xo

  3. Leah Greenstein
    August 18
    Reply

    Wow, Brooke, what an incredible, thoughtful and well-written post. Your words are like little prayers on the wind. That said, if there’s anything our earthly servants have taught us, my dear, is that perfection is not attainable. You already carry that honor, love and respect into your relationships as often as anyone I know. Just be. The rest will work itself out.

  4. Food Woolf
    August 18
    Reply

    @Marla (family fresh cooking), Thanks for reading and responding! I can only imagine the feeling of wanting to be a better person for your children is incredibly powerful and–when faced with terrible driving and mean neighbors–conflicting. Good to know I’m surrounded by others also on a quest to do right in the world.

    Off to the spa we go!

  5. Your words are so beautiful and poignant. I don’t think anybody has the answers to the questions you seek. I think religion is about discovery, love and faith, and it is a different journey and experience for everybody. I love reading about your take on “serving” and your discovery of “religion”, whatever it may mean to you. Please keep sharing your beautiful insights, it is such a pleasure to read your words :)

  6. August 18
    Reply

    So beautifully written, straight from the heart! I don’t think you’re taking anything too far, especially since this is only a glimpse of your passion for what you do! How amazing and extraordinary! If only I had a tenth of that passion!!!!

  7. August 18
    Reply

    You are an amazing person. Thank you for sharing. Life is a journey and I don’t think we will ever have the answers to all of our questions, but we do learn and grow through our experiences. I think you are on the right path!

  8. Brooke, your writing is poignant, rich in verse, and awe inspiring. The little pearls of wisdom you grace us with are, for me, thought provoking, heart felt and enlightening. I feel blessed to know you!

  9. Service … it’s one of the hardest things to do … and do well. And it almost forces you to look within when you have a really bad day. I still have occasional dreams, (okay nightmares) that linger from when I used to work in restaurants. You are really putting yourself out there. Nothing but respect!

  10. August 18
    Reply

    Brooke, this is a gorgeous post. I always appreciate your complete honesty and willingness to put yourself out there and share your innermost thoughts. I totally respect the work that you do and your commitment to it every single day.

  11. Jordan
    August 19
    Reply

    Brooke, what an incredible post. I am glad you have decided to show us all a glimpse of your servant’s heart. For there is no higher calling than that of a servant. And no greater gift than food and nourishment for the soul. Beautifully written, Sista :-)

    • Food Woolf
      August 20
      Reply

      Jordan, that means a lot. Especially coming from one inside the business! Thank you thank you!

  12. August 19
    Reply

    I’m impressed with your courage! This is such a great post and your questions and intentions are good ones. I’m so glad you wrote it. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Brooke – you are amazing. Truly amazing and I am so lucky to have you as a friend. You’re writing is beautiful and your courage and honesty and such amazing qualities. I think you are on the path to something fantastic and I can’t wait to see where all this takes you! xoxo

  14. Maria
    August 22
    Reply

    Hi Brooke,

    Just started to read your blog, I work w/Zac at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market for Jimenez farms,

    Your blog is great and so interesting! I must keep reading….. I can relate to your feelings on working in the service industry, You yell at the guy who cut you off because you are human….. and the goddness part of you just says: Brooke that is me just being human…… but from what i have read it seems you align w/ your inner goddness pretty regularly! you ask all those great questions!

    The lamb burger looks so mouth watering, yummy! we will have to try that.

    Thank you so much for featuring it on your blog.

    I will keep reading… you keep writing.
    c u @ the farmer’s market.
    Maria

    • Food Woolf
      August 23
      Reply

      @Maria, Thanks for swinging by and reading. I adore your farm’s delicious produce and meat and can’t stay away from your stand at the Hollywood Farmers Market.

      I slow cooked the pork butt I bought yesterday and can’t wait to post the recipe!

      I look forward to seeing you here and at the market!
      Best,
      Brooke

  15. Anne Deneen
    August 23
    Reply

    Dear Food Woolf,
    Service is what it’s all about. In Christianity, it’s called loving your neighbor as yourself, no matter who your neighbor is, even if it’s a crowd of tourists, because for them you are the presence of compassion, and the best thing that can happen for them is the fullness of who you are when you are with, putting them first. At the ethical level, the main-line religions teach similar things: care for the other, work for the end of suffering for all people. Jesus said whatever you do for these little ones, the “least of these,” you have done for me. If you are taking service seriously, then you have the heart of compassion. Be a person of peace and service, and everyone you meet will experience those things. You might be the only person in their life who treats them, however brief the encounter, with dignity and kindness.
    Peace, Anne

    • Food Woolf
      August 30
      Reply

      @Anne Deneen,
      Thanks for the service insights! I’m fascinated by how clergy deal with the same challenges we restaurant people grapple with.
      Peace to you!

  16. […] until my “dream job” as a writer came true. I began to feel that my work in restaurants fulfilled me in a way that writing in solitude never could, because it gave me an opportunity to connect to […]

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