My journeys around the world the past thirty years have profoundly convinced me that if you plan to travel from success to significance in this lifetime, you will do so over the road of compassion. Your true measure of greatness will always be determined by your care for others, not the accumulation for yourself. I know that it sounds a bit revolutionary, but the pulsating motivation behind your drive for accumulation should be the recognized opportunities for making other people better off.
Our medical team had traveled to the fascinating, but terribly needy, country of Tanzania with our free medical clinics. The doctors and nurses on that trip were mostly from the Vanderbilt University community, and we had looked forward to what could be accomplished within the borders of the Serengeti. The night before we were to pack up and leave the Serengeti, we had all gathered to relax with tea and biscuits around an open pit fire at our rustic campsite. Our team had been overwhelmed the previous days by the raw-edged medical needs of desperate people.
I knew that would be the last night I would spend under the starlit sky of the majestic Serengeti for a while. My mind had gone back to the words of Dr. Albert Einstein, “A person first starts to live when he can live outside himself.” Our medical team was totally spent physically but was bursting with joy and satisfaction. They had outperformed their own expectations. They had lived to the limit outside themselves.
We had all been privileged to share the experience of a lifetime by taking the talents God had given to us and unselfishly using those talents to ease the pains of terribly hurting people halfway around the world. There were scores of kids who needed immediate attention for malaria, serious skin problems, or even tetanus. Others suffered with severe respiratory problems, chicken pox, or tuberculosis.
Two days before, we had all witnessed a dramatic episode where our talented medical team had been able to give life back to a young girl who had been in a deep coma and had been carried to the medical site by her grieving mother. David White had leaned over the limp body of the girl as she lay on the makeshift examination table, with IV tubes in her that dangled from the rafters of the dirty building. He spoke softly into her ear, “Little girl, Jesus loves you; we love you. Your mother is here. Open your eyes, sweetie.” She not only opened her eyes, but the next day she walked with her mother back across the Serengeti to their home!
On the last day of our clinic, a middle-aged mother had been brought to us. She had accidentally tripped and fallen into an open cooking fire the afternoon before. She had not only received terrible facial burns, but the fire had also destroyed one of her eyes, removing it from the socket. Nowhere else on the Serengeti could she have received emergency help or medications to relieve the excruciating pain. Our team cleansed and treated the wounds, packed the burned eye socket, and left ample medical supplies and instructions with family members for taking care of the injured mother in the weeks ahead.
The medical-team members experienced true joy that last night, because during the past week, they had been reminded of one of life’s great secrets. If we are to live fulfilled and satisfied lives, we must move outside the tightening circle of our own personal concerns and start investing in the lives of others. There is something miraculous and wonderful about not only giving away your riches but also giving yourself away! In the process of giving yourself away, you will discover the surprise package of true reward and eternal fulfillment. What I hoard, I lose; what I try to keep will be left and fought over by others. But what I give to God and others will continue to return forever. It’s no wonder Einstein’s comment “A person first starts to live when he can live outside himself” makes so much sense! Come to think of it, he was a pretty smart guy!