“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Many people are searching to “find themselves,” feeling a bit lost and unhappy. If Gandhi is right in the above quote, we’d probably find ourselves faster and be happier if we looked for how to serve others. Finding oneself by serving others may seem paradoxical. The word “service” has gone out of style. Today it often conjures up images of military service, or customer service. Its broader meaning refers to kindness, acknowledgement, making a difference. A “life of service” might include any or all of these:
- Caring for a loved one
- Praying for someone who’s suffering
- Smiling at the grocery store clerk
- Mowing someone’s lawn
- Not giving advice, unless asked
- Working whole-heartedly for a cause you believe in
- Listening deeply to another person
Maybe the best way to think about living a life of service is to share peoples’ thoughts and experiences.
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
― Albert Schweitzer
The Christmas when my grandson Mitch was 10 years old, he and his family adopted a family who was having financial struggles. They learned the ages of all the children and shopped for presents that would be appreciated. When I asked Mitch his favorite thing about that Christmas he answered immediately, “Giving Joey a bike and helping him learn to ride it.”
“Life is for service.”
― Fred Rogers
Judge Lou Olivera of the Cumberland NC Veteran’s Court sentenced Joseph Serna, a veteran who did three tours in Afghanistan and suffers with PTSD, to 24 hours in jail for a DUI offense. When Serna showed up to do his jail time, the judge, a veteran of the Gulf War, met him and said he was going with him. They spent the night together in a single cell, sharing their experiences, hopes, dreams. Explaining his actions, Olivera cited this story: “A soldier with PTSD was in a hole. A family member, a therapist and a friend all threw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbed into the hole with him. The soldier suffering with PTSD asked, ‘Why are you down here?’ The fellow veteran replied, ‘I am here to climb out with you.’
The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:
‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
But…the good Samaritan reversed the question:
‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
― Martin Luther King, Jr.
Leila, a friend of mine, lost her husband. When I saw her, I was concerned at how much weight she had lost and how little energy she seemed to have. When I saw her a few months later, she was lit up from the inside, vibrant and alive. It was so noticeable, I asked her what had changed. She smiled and said simply, “I now rock preemies on my lunch hour and after work.”
A life of service gives us a break from self-absorption. It shifts our focus to others.
To make us happy a life of service must be freely chosen. Still, there are times when we find ourselves serving, such as when we care for small children or an ailing loved one, because the situation requires it. Then we have a choice. Will we experience it as a burden or an opportunity to give? When I cared for my late husband, Hal, as he declined mentally and physically, I went back and forth. Here’s what I know: when I focused on the burden, I was unhappy. When I focused on the blessing of being with him, I was happy. When the effort of caring for him physically was too much for me, I got help with that part so I could still be with him kindheartedly.
“Using our gifts to be of service is the fullest expression of our lives. People who want to be of service can change the world.”
― The Virtues Project
Circling back to the place where we started:
- A life of service is the surest way to find yourself and love your life.
- Loving your life is the surest route to happiness.
- When more people live lives of service, the world is a better place.
- What does your life of service look like? How do you serve? Whom do you serve?
- What gift do you have that others need? (Remember it can be a smile or your warm-hearted presence.)
- How can you make one person’s life better today?