What is most important in life?

A few days ago, I was asked by a reader, “What is the most important thing in life to you?” Since many of us may occasionally ask ourselves the same question, I thought it would be a good idea to share my answer with all our readers. By the way, you are also invited to ask me a question or suggest a topic for me to write about.

Although we may hesitate before arriving at the ONE most important thing in life, it is an easy matter to think of several things that are important to us. Some of the things that immediately come to mind are a job, money, friends, food and shelter, and a spouse and family. Now, we cannot get any of the above without the help of others. So, how do we get their help?

Life gives back to us what we give to it. So, if I help others, what do you suppose they will do? That’s right, they will help me. Because we need the help of others to reach our goals, one of the most important things in life is TO HELP OTHERS, THEREBY RECEIVING THEIR HELP. But don’t misunderstand. The purpose of helping others is not because we need their help, but because THEY NEED OUR HELP.

How do you feel when you are served by an ingratiating waiter in a restaurant? It is not pleasant when a waiter fawns on you because he wants a big tip. But when the waiter is sincere and offers impeccable service because he takes his job seriously, it is a delightful experience. For this simple reason, when we help others, SINCERITY and the DESIRE TO ALWAYS DO AND BE OUR BEST must be our guiding principles.

But what causes us to serve others with a pure motive? Isn’t it LOVE? Now we can answer the question. The most important thing in life is LOVE because, as Marianne Williamson wrote in her book “A Return to Love,” LOVE IS OUR SOUL PURPOSE. Now that we know the answer, we can begin to reflect on the meaning of LOVE and the fruit it bears.

Love means to cherish, hold dear, and treasure. We do not hurt, harm, or cause pain to those we love; rather, we seek to relieve their suffering. Also, love is liberating because it is the absence of fear. It frees us from suspicion, hostility, envy, and resentment. It rejoices in the achievements of others. It is not about wanting people; it’s about wanting people to be happy. It’s not about wanting to possess or control others; it’s about wanting to set them free.

Here is an excellent description of love by John Oxenham (real name: William Arthur Dunkerley, 1852 ~ 1941), “Love ever gives. Forgives, outlives. And ever stands with open hands. And while it lives, it gives. For this is love’s prerogatives – to give, and give, and give.” Love is all there is. What more do we need to know?

Before we can love others, we have to discover and experience it for ourselves. Although it is helpful to say we first need to love ourselves, it is also inaccurate to say so. You see, to love oneself implies two people: the lover and the beloved. But we are not two; we are one. So, it is more accurate to say that when we become still and plunge into our depths, we will discover that we ARE love. Love is our very nature. This becomes clear when we watch infants smile at strangers. Igor Stravinsky (1882 ~ 1971) said something similar, “Is it not by love alone that we succeed in penetrating to the very essence of being?”

Love is not about feeling good; it is about doing good. A perfect example of love in action is Mother Teresa (1910 ~ 1997). But how did such a tiny woman, barely five feet tall, find the energy to work so tirelessly? The answer can be found in the words of Thomas ã Kempis (1379 ~ 1471), “Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of trouble, attempts what is above its strength… It is therefore able to undertake all things, and it completes many things, and warrants them to take effect, where he who does not love would faint and lie down.”

When we do all things with love, we infuse our tasks and ourselves with energy. Nevertheless, after considering the extraordinary hurdles overcome by Mother Teresa, we may feel painfully inadequate and doubt that we can make much of a difference. At such a time, we should earnestly listen to her own words: “Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Mother Teresa also exemplified one of the fruits of love, which is RESPECT for others. When asked by a reporter if she tried to convert those she helped, she replied, “Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him.” It would bode well for us to follow her example, for if we cannot respect others, we cannot respect God.

Innately, we seek freedom, joy, and endless growth. They are the ingredients for happiness, and they are also the fruit of love. No longer a hostage of anger, a captive of greed, or a prisoner of negative thinking, love frees us to be ourselves. As to joy, it is the natural by-product of bringing joy to others. And for endless growth to flourish, we need an environment of love, for we cannot learn from those we don’t love. Love allows us to accept others and makes us willing to listen to what they have to say, the reward of which is knowledge, learning, and growth.

“The essence of love is kindness,” said Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 ~ 1894). Those who are portals of love are kind, gentle, and humble. They express their love by serving others, and their service provides meaning and purpose in their lives. On the physical plane, an enlarged heart is a malady, but spiritually, an enlarged heart embraces more and more of humanity, raising our consciousness. As our heart expands, we come to love everything under the sun: the streams, brooks, trees, and creatures of the forest. This leads us to God, for as Vincent Van Gogh (1853 ~ 1890) said, “The best way to know God is to love many things.” When we love, we are not bringing God into our heart. Rather, we are stepping into the heart of God. What better way to get to know Him?

This is the time of year when we think of fireplaces, chimneys, and socks hung out for Santa to fill with presents. Yet, Frank Tebbets reminds us that “A life without love in it is like a heap of ashes upon a deserted hearth, with the fire dead, the laughter stilled and the light extinguished.” To the deserted, the lonely, the impoverished, let’s come bearing the gift of love. For as Oscar Wilde wrote, “Who, being loved, is poor?” I’m sure you agree with Euripides (480 ~ 406 BC) that “Love is all we have, the only way that each can help the other.” Although this article has an ending, love does not. When we immerse ourselves in it, we get a taste of eternity. That’s why Alfred Lord Tennyson (1808 ~ 1892) wrote, “…brief is life but love is long,”