The Unselfish Life—Part 2
From the Roadmap series
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Unselfishness is not just about giving money. Sometimes it’s easier to give money than it is to give of ourselves. To give our time, attention, sympathy, understanding, and prayers to someone else, we have to be the “real deal.” We have to reach out, to understand, to feel compassion, and to do something about it. Often it’s those sacrifices of time that really count—such as when we give up our day off to participate in the local charitable work, to spend time with the children of a single mother, to teach an illiterate person to read, or visit someone who is sick.
It’s not just about money. It’s about what we give from our hearts, out of love.
There’s a great story about a missionary who was teaching in Africa. Before Christmas he had been telling his native students how Christians, as an expression of their joy, gave each other presents on Christ’s birthday.
On Christmas morning one of the natives brought the missionary a seashell of lustrous beauty. When asked where he had discovered such an extraordinary shell, the native said he had walked many miles to a bay, the only spot where such shells could be found.
“I think it was wonderful of you to travel so far to get this lovely gift for me,” the teacher exclaimed.
His eyes brightening, the native answered, “Long walk, part of gift.”
Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare!—Author unknown
We each have many opportunities to help others. God helping us, we should be constantly aware of the fact that we are rich in spirit and often physically, too, comparatively speaking. We have so much to share; we’re billionaires in true riches.
You know that expression, love begins at home? That could very well be applied to the opportunities we have to help our brethren—other Christians and missionaries. In the following testimony Steve tells of an experience in which he and his wife were recipients of God’s amazing love through the brethren.
The sun was slipping past the horizon as I drove up the narrow two-lane road in the mountains of central Mexico. Switching on my headlights, I looked in the rearview mirror to check on my little team. I could see my wife sleeping, probably the first she had slept in days. My three little girls were sleeping too. I would have liked to have had a cup of coffee, but I did not want to spend the money. We needed all that we had for gas to get us to Dallas. Truth is, even if I could have afforded it, I would not have stopped. Stopping would have woken everyone up … but more importantly, we were in a race against time.
I don’t mind driving at night; children usually sleep, it’s cooler, and it gave me time to think. I needed some time to think. It had been a long year!
I let my mind take me back to the day we found out that we were expecting again! We were traveling to a new mission location. We had saved up enough money to buy an ugly little teal green Ford Windstar with hail damage and a rooftop carrier. We traveled all the way to the East Coast of the U.S. to visit my wife’s family, then to the West Coast to see mine. My poor wife fought morning sickness all the way.
Eventually we joined other missionaries in the south of Mexico. Tired and battle-weary, we arrived three weeks before the due date. My wife had been having a premonition that something was not quite right with the baby. I said that she worried too much. However, she was right. When Vanessa was born, she was quickly whisked away to an incubator, and she stayed there for three days. The doctors were unable to find an explanation for her breathing difficulty, and so sent her home. A few days later we found ourselves in the emergency room of the state-run children’s hospital. We lived out of our van in the parking lot. We stayed for three weeks.
There it was determined that Vanessa had a heart condition that would require corrective surgery. Exactly the extent of the condition was not clear. But the doctors there urged us to return to the U.S. for better medical care. Our friends who were missionaries in Dallas had agreed to take us into their home for a few months while Vanessa’s condition was fully diagnosed and the necessary corrective surgery was performed. That’s where we were headed.
When we arrived at the home of friends in Dallas in the wee hours in the morning, we found a beautiful little room that had been prepared for us. Our daughters were delighted to find two little beds made just for them. Our daughter asked in wonder, “Mommy, how long can we stay in this nice hotel?” It was the nicest place they’d slept in in probably over a year.
The trip to the cardiologist ended with an ambulance to the intensive care unit of the Dallas Medical Center, where we basically lived for over two months. Heart surgery, weak lungs, a feeding tube, incubations, multiple strep infections, a lot of long nights followed.
My wife and I took shifts so that one of us could stay at the hospital around the clock. And all the while these wonderful missionaries took care of our children, cooked us food, washed our laundry, loaned us a car when ours had to go into the shop, took shifts at the hospital so that we could rest and spend time with our other children, and even paid for our tolls so that we could take a shorter route to and from the hospital!
Finally, we were able to take little Vanessa home to recover. They moved us to the master bedroom just to accommodate the large amount of medical equipment that was needed for her care. All that time they never breathed a word about the financial costs or the burden that it was to them. They took care of our every need.
Six weeks later Vanessa briefly slipped into a coma and was rushed back to the hospital. Over the next three months doctors tried to figure out why, what were the problems. Test after test after test. As the test results came back one by one, each one hit us like a ton of bricks. She had brain damage, she was deaf, blind, her heart condition would require multiple surgeries. In short, her situation was terminal.
The question was how long did she have? A year, perhaps two. We didn’t know. No one knew. The ethics committee at the hospital released her into our care so that she could die at home.
We knew that the missionaries we were visiting had given all that they could. For months they had shared all that they had. And they had never asked us for anything. I knew that there was no way that they could continue to support us like that. So we quietly prepared to move. We found a small one-bedroom apartment close to the hospital.
Then these missionaries did something I didn’t expect at all. They asked us to stay. I thought they didn’t really understand what they were getting into. Didn’t they realize that my wife and I would need to take 24-hour shifts with the baby? That Vanessa would need constant medical attention, weekly visits from nurses? We had already turned their home upside down, and it would continue, and we didn’t know how much longer it would continue. And we were not sure how much we would be able to contribute financially or practically to their home, if anything at all.
Thing is, they did understand, and quietly replied, “Whatever you need, as long as you need it, we’re here for you and your family.”
You have no idea how deeply that touched us. Amazing people, really. A few months later, while resting in her mother’s arms, Vanessa quietly passed away to be with Jesus in heaven. I still miss her, and that was a number of years ago now.
And to this day this remains the most vivid example of sacrificial giving that I have personally seen.
This was an amazing example of true unconditional love and kindness—the kind that loves someone just because you both love the same Jesus. A love that gives until it hurts, and then gives some more. A love that says, “Whatever you need as long as you need it, it’s yours,” even when you know that the receiver can never ever repay.
Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”1 I am forever indebted to these friends. They not only said that they believed the truth of God’s Word, but they proved it to me. Thank you!—Steve
The Bible says: “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”2
Jesus said, “Whatsoever you spend, I will repay.”3 He never fails. If we want our lives to be blessed, fulfilling, and happy, let’s look for ways to give to those around us. Let’s make it a habit. Let’s make giving unselfishly of our time, service, and finances part of our personal code of ethics, and we’ll find we will not lack, as God will give back to us in abundance, and our life of unselfishness will be a blessed life.
Living unselfishly is like giving yourself a gift, because whatever you give or share with others will come back to you. That’s a promise! You can never outgive God, even if you try.
When your Christian love moves from just being a sermon to being a living example of Jesus’ generosity, care, and sympathy, it’s like you’ve just dressed your love in work clothes and set about to build something beautiful. That’s the kind of practical everyday love that makes people stand up and take notice, as it’s a living example of the unconditional love of Jesus.
There are so many ways to give. We can give of our material possessions, our time, our prayers, our advice and sympathy, and our assistance. Any giving is worth it, because nothing that is given to others will ever be lost, overlooked, or forgotten by the Lord. You’ll never regret giving, both in this life and in the life to come.
Roadmap was a video series created by TFI for young adults. Originally published in 2010. Adapted and republished on Anchor January 2018. Read by Simon Peterson.