Some years ago I received a notification in the mail regarding a testimonial and special recognition being given to a man I had known at an earlier time in a community where I had once lived with my family. The man and his wife were leaving the community where they had spent most of their lives. The local citizens were organizing a special event to honor him for the service he had given and the influence he had had in so many of the lives of the people. My life was one that he had touched. Receiving the announcement brought a rush of recollections to my mind about ways in which I had been benefitted, encouraged, and guided by this man’s concern and kindness for me.
Almost at once I decided I would make an effort to attend this event, even though it was the winter season and the weather was threatening. The community was a good distance from the place where I lived at the time, and I knew it would not be convenient for me. I had been given no part to play in the planned proceedings, and I suspected I might not even be recognized in the throng that would likely gather. But I felt compelled to go and join the others in paying him his honor.
The community in which the man had lived was a small one. He had never drawn about him much of the world’s goods. The little business he had operated could have been profitable enough, but he was too interested in people to be much concerned with embellishing his standard of living. He was always available to people, but he never demanded anything of them. Most of us had learned to take him very much for granted. It is unlikely he would ever have been given any public recognition until his burial day, had not his unexpected departure from the community prompted this effort to honor him.
On the evening the special event occurred, I entered the place for the meeting and was immediately intrigued by the arrangements that had been made. All who entered were asked to sign their names on slips of paper that were then folded and dropped into a cardboard box. When the large crowd was seated, and the honored guest had taken his place on the stand, there was a song and a prayer, and then the chairman arose to announce the proceedings. No speakers had been assigned for the evening, he said. He pointed to the cardboard box that was now on the rostrum. Names would be drawn from the box, he explained, and those who were chosen in this manner would be asked to represent all who were present in making expressions of appreciation and love for our friend.
One by one the names were drawn. As the hour passed, a procession of unrehearsed speakers filed to the podium and revealed the story of selfless service that our friend had given to members of the community.
As the meeting drew to a close, the name of a local physician was drawn from the box. For many years the good doctor had lived as a neighbor to our honored friend. He had recently returned to his home following treatment in another state for what had proved to be a near-fatal illness. As he spoke, he explained that for many years he had contemplated how his own life and that of our friend had been devoted to serving others. He told of leaving his home to make professional calls at hours both early and late, and of frequently encountering our friend departing on what appeared to be responses to the call for help from someone with a problem. At these times, the doctor said, he felt particularly close to his neighbor in the fellowship of service that they shared.
At this point in his remarks, the doctor paused, and his voice became touched with emotion. Making reference to his recent illness, he related how he had left this same community several months before, not knowing whether he would ever recover and return. No farewell testimonial had been held in his honor. He confessed that he had been disturbed by the obvious difference in the feelings of the community toward himself and our friend, especially in view of the service that both of them had given. Tonight, he said, he had learned why this was so.
With all of the apparent parallels between his life and that of his friend, there was one very important difference that had set them apart from each other in the eyes of the people in the community. For all of his services, the doctor pointed out, he had collected a fee. That was the difference. He had not realized until tonight how much his fees had cost him.
All of us who knew the good doctor and had benefitted from his kindly ministrations realized that he was being too critical of his own compassion and charity. But he succeeded, in those dramatic circumstances, in teaching all of us a lesson that we would not soon forget.
Most of us demand fees for the service that we give. It is not always in the form of money or some material reward. Sometimes we feed upon the recognition and notice that our good acts have earned. Of such the Savior said, “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:2).
It is only when we learn to serve for the sake of service and to do good in order to bless the lives of others that we begin to know the inner peace and satisfaction that come from caring for others. Then we are not concerned about whether our service shows on the reports, or whether we qualify for badges and ribbons and medals of recognition. The sweetness that comes into our lives when we learn to give for the sake of giving is far more precious than all of the public attention that we might otherwise receive. Most importantly, when we learn to serve with no thought of reward or recognition for ourselves, we begin to develop one of the most desirable traits that the Savior himself possesses. We draw closer to him.
I encourage you to think about this principle and to explore ways that you can begin to develop the joy of service in your own life. In the final outcome of things, it will probably be one of the most rewarding things you can do.