The most selfless act of love is laying down your life for someone else, a concept beautifully exemplified by Jesus Christ. Through this sacrifice, Jesus paid the price for our sins and granted forgiveness and eternal life.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8)
Babies are born with a natural inclination to be selfish. The innate desire to claim ‘mine’ seems hardwired. Even before they can utter the word, they’re masters of possession. As the youngest child in my family, I may have been a little spoiled, and it wasn’t my nature to look for ways to help others. On a chilly morning in December, I noticed a man selling pencils. Mom and I were heading to the local department store and I asked Mother if we could go back and talk to the man selling pencils and to my surprise, she said yes!
The man sat on the ground, and as I got closer, I noticed crutches lying behind him under his tattered coat. I handed him my hard-earned dollar bill, earned by polishing silver and helping with extra chores. He smiled at me and opened a box filled with new number 2 pencils in an assortment of colors. He said I could take one in every color, but I told him I didn’t need to take any at all because I have pencils at home. He insisted that I take one or he wouldn’t take my money, so I picked up a shiny blue pencil with a pink eraser.
As I walked away, he said, “May God bless you.”
“Mom, why did the man insist I take a pencil? I wanted him to keep it so he would have more to sell.”
Mother replied, “That is his way of earning money and a way for him to keep his dignity. Most people would rather earn a living than rely on charity.”
I understood the joy of giving and began to take notice of kind acts that were being modeled for me daily. For example, Mother often offered sandwiches and glasses of milk to the hobos who knocked on our door looking for work. Hobos traveled on passing trains, hiding in boxcars as they went from town to town. Today, the hobos are gone but there is a huge homeless population in the United States and throughout the world. The charitable spirit of the ’50s is displaced with fear and suspicion. Asking the Holy Spirit for discernment on when and whom to help is crucial. One of my favorite sayings is “There, but for the grace of God, go I”, and discernment from the Holy Spirit always trumps fear and prompts the spirit of giving. I am reminded of my Mother’s instructions to give and not make a show of it, keeping every person’s dignity in mind.
A few months after meeting the man who sold pencils, I decided to give away my favorite doll, gifted to me by Santa Clause himself at the Kerbela Shriners Circus. The annual event was for the ‘Shiners kids’, so I got to tag along because my sister was invited. It was a full-blown circus with cotton candy, animals, and circus acts, and at the end of the day Santa Claus called the ‘Shiners kids’ by name and gave each of them presents. My sister contracted the polio virus when she was three years old, two years before I was born. One morning Mother couldn’t get my sister to get up, so she went into her room and was shocked to find her awake but unable to move. She was paralyzed from the waist down. It was five years later, in 1955, before a vaccine was approved, and tens of thousands had already contracted polio during the epidemic in the early ‘50s. Over 57,000 cases were reported in the United States in 1952. My sister was told she would never walk again. Mother, a woman of faith, refused to accept the grim diagnosis and believed in the power of prayer. She took my sister to multiple doctors, tried acupuncture, chiropractors, and various medical specialists to find the right treatment. My sister spent years at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Lexington, Kentucky, where they took great care of her. She had over twenty surgeries and eventually was able to walk with braces, even throwing them away by the time she was twelve.
So, at the end of the Shrine Circus that day, after watching every ‘Shriners kid’ receive a gift, I vocalized loudly, “I wish I could have a present from Santa too.”
A few minutes passed and Santa called my name and said, “I saved this one for you.”
Santa handed me the doll, and it was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. With blonde curly hair, blue eyes, frilly pink dress, and lacy white socks, she became a treasure I kept, occasionally taking her out of the box to admire her. Later, my sister claimed she orchestrated the whole Santa Claus spectacle to make me feel special. Whether I believe her or not is another story.
A few months later my best childhood friend was going to be celebrating her birthday. I felt like I should give her my special doll. Mother asked if I was sure that I wanted to give her my favorite doll from Santa, even offering to buy my friend a different present. I refused her offer and said Jesus wanted me to give the best thing I owned to show how much I loved her. Mom couldn’t argue with that.
As adults striving to be good parents, we learn the necessity of selflessness. My husband and I made sacrifices, working multiple jobs, and selling our personal possessions to provide for our children during tough financial times. It was an act of faith, for we knew God would replace anything ten times over and he always did!
Selflessness is a quality passed down through generations. My Mother was selfless when she opened the door to strangers and made sure they had something to eat. Once, when I was swimming in deep water and starting to go under, she was ready to jump in and save me, even though she could not swim any better than I could. Luckily, one of my friends was already in the water and managed to help me get to shore.
I saw many selfless acts of kindness from my own children and grandchildren, times when they reached out to help others. Professions like doctors, nurses, firefighters, EMTs, church leaders and police, demand selflessness. Good teachers who care about their students embody the quality of selflessness. Men and women in the military display bravery and sacrifice for the sake of others.
When we focus on others’ needs over our own, we exemplify selflessness with actions driven by a desire to help without expecting thanks or rewards. An encouraging word, lending a listening ear, fixing a stranger’s flat tire, or giving when no one is watching, these acts of kindness emerge from the depths of our hearts and souls.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)
Selfless acts of kindness and love are a like a family heirloom passed down through generations. Every gesture of kindness is a thread sewn into the fabric of our lives, contributing to a beautiful tapestry of a well-lived life.