What Are You Doing for Others? An MLK Day Message
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” asked Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957. Is it just me, or does it seems like people’s most persistent and urgent question now is, “What am I doing for myself?”
What am I doing to grow my career?
What am I doing to improve myself and my life?
What am I doing to fulfill my dreams?
While these questions could intersect with King’s foundational query, they often fall short. Statistically, younger generations (i.e., my age & younger) of Americans are demonstrating less generosity and volunteering less than previous generations did at the same age. The ideal of activism often translates into a Facebook posts rather than real-world application.
Personal finance blogs offer many useful tools and advice for improving one’s finances. But why—what’s your why? Is it comfort, security, freedom, flexibility? It’s all still as meaningless as the 9 to 5 we want to escape, if we don’t have a more compelling purpose.
You don’t have to work out that purpose perfectly right away. It doesn’t have to look like a detailed five- or ten-year plan of how you’ll do good in the world. I think it should look like asking MLK’s question of ourselves on a regular basis, though, because we can’t afford to let it go unanswered.
Thankfully, there are many people of all ages who are activists, advocates, volunteers, and philanthropists. But we all know there aren’t enough. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution to our society was immeasurable. Yet so much more work remains.
No, you can’t save the world. But you can change the life of one person. Maybe two. Maybe five. Maybe more. The tragedy isn’t that you don’t pull off saving the world. The tragedy is when you don’t even try. It’s not just the people you would’ve helped who miss out; it’s you. You’re missing out on your best possible life, the fulfillment of the most worthwhile dreams.
This past weekend, I was involved with a volunteer appreciation dinner for the adults in our church. We have about 25 people involved in 5 different organizations, serving a range of people in need:
- Visiting incarcerated youth at detention centers and holding a Bible study.
- Visiting with and/or mentoring sex-trafficked young women, or those at high risk of being trafficked.
- Teaching preschool, an after school program, or providing childcare for refugee children.
- Teaching Bible studies at a nursing home. One group is dedicated entirely to those suffering from dementia.
- Helping refugees get settled—giving them rides to the SS office or other appointments, helping with paperwork, supplying household items, helping them move, and more.
At the dinner it was beautiful to hear from the volunteers, both about the very valuable, needed work they are doing, and about what they are learning and how they’re growing from it.
I know everyone is busy. We work a lot. We have children in many activities. We have hobbies and side hustles, and television shows to watch and blogs to read. We need to exercise, read, and relax. But what is the goal of all our self-improvement and self-care? At some point we must ask ourselves, for what purpose am I trying to become the best version of myself?
Or, as King put it: “What are you doing for others?”
Jesus also chimed in on this topic: “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35).
How do you think your life might look different if you asked this question regularly? Have you volunteered? How has it impacted you, and those you helped?