The idea of selfless service was the theme of a story from my kindergarten days.
The Sunday School lesson told of a firefighter who died saving families from a burning building. The Bible verse to memorize for the week was John 15:13, which reads, “God hath no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for a friend.”
Early on the concept of having to die to show the greatest love burned in my brain. During my elementary years, I woke up sweating from nightmares, not from warm summer nights, but wondering whether I could pass the ultimate test if called to give that “last full measure of devotion,” words from the Gettysburg address that echoed through the cicada-filled darkness.
Today, with a half a century of thought and experience, John 15:13 begs a different interpretation of the phrase, “to lay down his life for a friend.”
To lay down your life. To put it down. To forget about your life, whatever you are doing or plan to do, to help a friend.
To lay down doesn’t mean to discard, or die.
An implication of “to lay down” includes the opposite action, to be able to pick up what has been laid down.
How wonderful it is when we have a friend who will stop whatever he or she is doing to spend time with us–be it a minute phone call, a lunch hour, a day in the park, or a year on a project. Time spent might be a fun activity or a visit, an emergency, or a caretaking situation.
But what great love we feel when our friend is with us, his or her own life put aside for a moment to join us on our own journey.
As parents we lay down our lives for our children. We put aside our lives in order to focus on our children, to help them grow, to nourish them, and to help them become the unique individuals only they can become. As our children become older and gain independence, we will pick up our lives again.
That a man should lay down his life for a friend. It takes courage to put aside your dreams and find new dreams with a friend.
Laying down your life varies in form and experience.
It may be as extreme as giving that “last full measure,” or it may be as simple as laying down your cell phone, the computer mouse, or the newspaper, to truly see and experience the person, the child, next to you.
A friend waiting to be discovered.
God hath no greater love than this.