In his new book, The Second Mountain, political columnist David Brooks tells about finding personal fulfillment in his involvement with people who are turning around communities through volunteer service. His Aspen Institute program, Weave: The Social Fabric Project, connects him with folks around the country who are “restoring social capital and healing lives.”
He writes: “They don’t have to ask themselves if they are doing anything valuable with their lives. They know.” These are people whose commitments to others give them identity and purpose. “They find joy in the light they bring others, and they know why they have been put on this earth.”
He tells stories about people he has met all over America (“we are a nation of healers”) who are literally giving their lives away for others. These people have a light in their eyes when they talk about what they are doing. They have renewed enthusiasm for living, a reason to get up in the morning.
This aligns with the teaching of Jesus who said, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). This saying of Jesus is so important it is repeated in all four of the gospels. The Lord is telling us that we find life, real life when we give our lives away. It eludes us when we selfishly hoard the life God has entrusted to us.
Last May, the administrators of Whiz Kids, a local non-profit, honored volunteers, and my friend Laura Love and I were recognized for having completed twenty years’ service. This faith-based ministry is more than a “program.” It is built on relationships, connecting tutors from all over the city with children in inner-city schools for help in reading.
Sure I was busy. As a pastor of a large church, I had plenty to do. But I kept at this because the Lord has been good to me in life and I want to give back to a boy who needs help. I love to read and I want to help him discover the pleasures of reading. This may seem old fashioned in an age of digital short cuts and addictive technologies. But I really believe this is important and I am willing to give a chunk of my life for it.
I want my Whiz Kid to learn to read well so he can improve in his other academic subjects. I want him to read well so he can learn how to be a life-long learner. I want him to learn to read well so he can focus and maintain the concentration necessary to do good work. I want him to learn to read well so he can read the Bible for himself and discover God’s love in Jesus Christ.
David Brooks is right when he says, “Our commitments give us a sense of purpose.” He tells the following story.
In 2007, the Gallup organization asked people around the world whether they felt they were leading meaningful lives. It turns out that Liberia was the country where most people felt a sense of meaning and purpose, while the Netherlands was the place where the lowest percentage of the people did. This is not because life was necessarily sweeter in Liberia. On the contrary. But Liberians possessed what Paul Froese calls “existential urgency.” In the turmoil of their lives, they were compelled to make fierce commitments to one another merely to survive. And these fierce commitments gave their lives a sense of meaning.
I don’t know if it is “existential urgency” that motivates me to be a Whiz Kids tutor. And my life is not in turmoil. But I do believe in making “fierce commitments” to doing what Jesus wants me to do. I guess I am addicted to the joy that follows. I invite you to make this same discovery. Give your life away.
In case you’re interested in Whiz Kids 2019-20
- July 28 — Sign up at Metropolitan Baptist Church
- August 27 — Tutor training
- Call for information: Karen Mickle (405-818-1361); Laura Love (405-740-4694)