The Joy of Helping

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There are so many places in the world where your mere presence is so welcome and your talents so valued that you experience an uncommon degree of positive regard just by being present and giving of yourself.

I have the great fortune to have been married for over 33 years to a most remarkable woman. It would be fair to say that I am a better person today not only for merely having known her but also for having the opportunity to grow with her during this time we’ve had together. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how much I continue to learn from her and the experiences we’ve shared, and recently I was provided with a vivid reminder of this.

Every year my dear Sherry “abandons” me for 10 days, banding together with several of our friends and colleagues as part of an organization that brings first-class medical care to a remote, impoverished region of a Central American country. When she returns from these trips two things become readily evident: how full she is of the most energetic joy you can imagine, despite having been fairly sleep deprived and overworked for several days, and how difficult it is for her to put the experience behind her and then get back to her normal daily routine. This year, she came to a deep-level awareness about the nature of her difficulties readjusting to business as usual. She simply couldn’t make peace with the idea for several days. Fortunately, she was able to communicate her distress about it in a way that both illuminated me and caused me to reflect on some things about our lives very carefully.

When she’s actively engaged in her outreach, my wife is able to do something that’s just not so easy to do in her busy day-to-day professional schedule: simply give of herself in generous spirit and with goodwill, and immerse herself in the love that flows naturally from the endeavor. Doing so feels really good to her (and those who accompany her have shared similar sentiments). Sure, there are opportunities in our local community to engage in charitable endeavors and outreach, and we’re both involved to some extent in several such activities, all of which are edifying. But there’s something different about being in an atmosphere where not only are there very few expectations of you but also few interfering structures or constrictions on your efforts to be of service. There are so many places in the world where your mere presence is so welcome and your talents so valued (valued far beyond the fees you might charge the members of your home community for those services as a helping professional) that you experience an uncommon degree of positive regard just by being present and giving of yourself. To be able to give so freely, and to be valued for anything and everything you bring to the table engenders a feeling that one can only describe as pure, unbounded joy.

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As hard as it is for my life partner to come back down to earth from the emotional high she’s been on during the mission, it’s even harder to reckon with all the things that have to be put in their place and proper perspective upon her return. Life indeed has its daily demands. It’s too easy to be consumed by them. You have to constantly remind yourself that you don’t have to be enslaved or governed by these demands. In the end, it’s up to each one of us to choose the masters we serve. So perhaps the most beneficial aspect of my wife’s return home at the end of each year’s mission is the time we spend talking and “debriefing,” reflecting on our values, on our priorities, and on all the things in life that matter most to us. We don’t just “count” our blessings. We savor them and humbly pay them due reverence. We’re well aware of how fortunate we are to have all that we have, including each other and our wonderful children and grandchildren, and our health. We don’t just feel grateful because we know not everyone in this world is as fortunate as we are. Rather, we’ve come to know that our greatest fortune has been to share this life together — to have come to know and value one another’s soul, and to have had the great fortune to grow in love, spirit, and character simply by having been exposed to one another.

Next year, I’m determined not to be “abandoned” again. My wife will certainly go on the mission she’s undertaken for seven years running now. But this time, my health permitting, I’m committed to accompanying her. Given the demands of the work, we might not even get the chance to work together, let alone see each other all that much. But we’ll certainly be together in spirit and purpose. When we return, and we once again have to reckon with the realities of our daily grind, contemplate our priorities, and count our blessings, I’ll have an even deeper awareness of the joy my dear wife and so many others have experienced by simply giving themselves so totally away.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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