Summary: That true happiness is in sacrificing and helping those who are in need, be it physical, mental, or spiritual.
Even though it had just rained, the air was warm, with precipitation dripping from the leaves of the ferns and trees that lined the steamy mountain trail. I was acutely aware of this not-entirely-pleasant fact as water began to run down my laboring back. I was leading the obligatory Sabbath walk for several guests who were gracing my house with their presence for the afternoon.
I found my mind wandering and wondering what the purpose of a walk was when all I really wanted to do was take a well-earned respite from the press of the week. Only just this once would be nice, I thought to myself.
“Oooo,” cooed one woman, “look at all the cute little worms.” This seemingly discordant element tugged at the edges of my otherwise engaged consciousness, finally pulling me firmly into the here and now.
Moments passed as I struggled fruitlessly to regain my mental composure, but all to no avail. I cast languid eyes back on the path and noted with interest that, in fact, there were thousands of “little worms” covering the ground. With considerable alarm I realized that our erstwhile “cuties” were not stationary, but like an army they were marching toward our position.
Moving as fast as possible, the besieging creatures were literally throwing themselves inchworm-style at our feet and legs. These weren’t worms—they were leeches!
Yuck! There are few things I hate more than leeches. Once they catch a ride, they really don’t like to get off their meal. They are like some nightmarish gum that as you are trying to get it off your shoe, it instead sticks to your hand, all the time trying to bite you.
With considerable lack of grace, we began a most curious dance punctuated by discordant hoots and hollers. We had started our ill-fated journey in a most confident manner, but our return to the head of the trail was far less decorous as we jerked and gesticulated, attempting to forcefully remove our grasping pestilential cargo.
The Question of Why
Upon arrival to the relative safety of our home, the inevitable question arose. “Why are you living in Thailand?” And as they looked around our small duplex, I could see that their “eyes had been opened.”
No longer was this “life in an exotic tourist destination”; rather, it was “life in a distant land with some apparently horrifying realities.” And in one form or another, our guests had finally hit the nail on the head.
Why would seemingly intelligent and potentially successful individuals sacrifice so much? And not just the inconsequential niceties, but such essentials as money, home, family, possessions, retirement, and, of course, Taco Bell.
If the truth were to be told, I’m not really a great proponent of sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. And unlike our Buddhist neighbors who think they must strive to gain a lot of merit during this earthly life, I expect no special consideration from God. I have life to give, and I give it freely.
This is not just some esoteric gift to God; this is a gift to those who are suffering around us. If one is giving to others only as some convoluted way to give to God, the “others” will notice and be amazingly unresponsive to our advances. If we follow the example of Christ, then to be Christian is to care for others and not to do good deeds for the merit of some sort.
Aside from the thought that we must be really greedy for merit, our actions are almost incomprehensible to many in the Buddhist world. After all, those who are suffering are just living out the results of their evil actions, whether in this life or the last. As such, there is no such thing as injustice, and mercy is almost unheard of.
The reality of life in Christ, once understood, makes Christianity seem unimaginably sweet but potentially far from the reality of everyday life for the people of Thailand.
Following the example of Christ, who came down to bridge the gap and show us the unimaginable love of God, we have come to live with the people of Thailand for the purpose of also bridging the gap. Our presence in Asia, however, is truly an unforeseen twist in the story of our lives.
Living the Call: Authentic Happiness
When one is approaching one’s life as a young person, it is generally with a very interesting and potentially less-than-realistic view as to what the future will hold. As a young boy, I was first convinced that I would be a farmer on the great plains of the United States with coyotes howling on the wind as a perpetual reminder of the wonderfulness of my chosen life.
Later, beguiled by conventional wisdom, the benefits of medicine, law, and other fantastic possibilities filed before me in a seemingly unending barrage. So it is with interest that I have found myself to be serving as a pastor/theology teacher in Thailand; and although I live a comparatively lower standard of living than those of my friends and family who are living those other lives in the West, I can honestly say that I have never been happier.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap; if you want happiness for a day, go fishing; if you want happiness for a month, get married; if you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune; if you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone.”
Life can be short and self-centered, but I believe that the missing ingredient in most of our lives is sacrificed for a greater cause. I also believe that the greatest of causes is to help those in need, be it physical, mental, or spiritual. Finally, I believe that to give of ourselves freely and without reservation to those in need is where we can find true happiness.
It is my wish that all would encounter true fulfillment by sacrificing for others.
Written by Seth Leamon, chaplain and Theology teacher, Mission College, Thailand. This article was previously published in Dynamic Steward, vol. 12. no. 1 (January-March 2008), pp. 10, 11, https://stewardship.adventist.org/page553.