The hidden gifts in service to others

In serving others, we think we’re doing the giving. But what we gain far outweighs the cost.

Recently I worked with a group of retired adults who gave 2 days a week in service to people who lived in poverty or with limited means. These volunteers were engaged in the third stage of life—after career and family—and looking to make a difference. Through their months of commitment, for many their experience shifted from giver to recipient. As they opened their hearts and minds to the people they served, they were humbled to know that even in the starkest or seemingly hopeless circumstances, their simple presence made a difference.

Lucas, the eldest son in the family portrayed in the movie The Impossible, learns this truth in the midst of disaster. His mother, lying in a hospital bed after the tsunami, unable to move due to a serious leg injury, encourages Lucas to go out into the hospital and help. The scene is grimy chaos as the facility is overwhelmed with tsunami survivors. Maria, his mother, tells him, “Lucas, go and help people. You’re good at it.” He steps out of his fear and helps reunite at least two children with their fathers, which also happens to be the deep wish he holds for himself.

Today we may not be struggling to survive in post-tsunami circumstances, but there will be chances to serve, opportunities to step out of our comfort and be present to another. May we move with the impulse to help, and bring light and hope to another’s life. That light will shine a bit on us as well. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

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