|Q: Earliest memory that you think was influential in your life, or earliest memory that was a major event. With a bit on how that event of influence effected you physically,mentally,spiritually, or whatever really.
A: There are many, but for now I think I’ll go with my birthday at an orphanage – it was my mom’s idea and it was the only birthday as a child where I did not get any presents. It made me distinctly aware of human pain and suffering later on in my life as well as thankful for what I have.
When I was a child, my parents tend to invite many people (100+) to attend my birthday party. Part of it is because I do have a lot of relatives, but most of it was because the birthday party was not so much for my benefit, but for my parents' building and/or maintaining their social and professional network. I typically knew less than 10% of the attendees as my my parents usually did not invite my friends (although sometimes my mom would invite teachers from my elementary). Still, I usually enjoy playing with the children who attended my party even if I never met them before (and would never meet them again). I also enjoyed the cake, leftover party favors, and whatever gifts I happen to receive.
There was one birthday, however, that my mom decided to hold at an orphanage. I distinctly remember getting into the car, not getting an answer when I asked my parents where we’re going, and possibly complaining about how long it’s taking to get there, wherever “there” is. When we arrived, my parents unloaded the cake and party favors into one particular classroom filled with children who I think were around my age. As I stood awkwardly by myself in front of the class, they sang “Happy Birthday” to me in a disconcertingly synchronized but emotionless tone – nobody smiled and all eyes just looked at me blankly. Afterwards, all the students lined up in a quiet, swift, organized, and trained manner to receive the party favors. As I give each child a party favor, they said thanks in a mechanical and flat tone, looking as emotionless and blank as before.
On the way home, I kept asking my parents whether they brought my birthday cake home because I hadn’t eaten any. They asked me instead if I knew where we were and explained that it was an orphanage where children without parents go. To this day, I’m still unsure what my mom intended by holding my birthday in that manner and I still find myself wishing that I had eaten even a bite of my birthday cake.
Later, I thought the point was to pity and “rescue” those less fortunate than me – which resulted in me developing an unhealthy “hero” or “savior” complex for most of my teenage and young adult life. However, the more I tried to help people out (often to my detriment), the more I noticed a pattern: 1) I can only help people who wants to be helped by me, and 2) my help will be ineffective, even detrimental when it is provided unsolicited or without knowing what the person I’m trying to help really needs (made more difficult in that people don’t always know what they need – they only know they’re unhappy).
Gradually, with revelations from the Bible and corrections from my wife, I realized that it is not my place to “save the world” but rather to simply love God and everyone around me, following in Jesus’ example in doing what God wants me to do. The fact is that even Jesus, being the Messiah, did not presume that people wanted His help or sacrifice, asking people what they want Him to do for them before doing it (e.g. Mark 10:51, Jesus asking the blind man what he wants from Jesus) or acting only after a request for help (e.g. Luke 17:11, ten lepers asking Jesus to have pity on them).
Soapbox message: There are a lot of pain and suffering in the world and I pray to God that I can be of assistance. However, with the understanding that not everyone wants my help and that it truly is God who can help, I’m careful to offer help only when it is warranted or invited, and to not insist on helping people who do not want my help (there are also people who only says they want my help but they’re really just trying to manipulate or take advantage of me – but that’s a different topic). As for me, I’ve come to rely on God to find out how I might be of assistance to everyone around me, as well as relying on God to complete any good work I have started. How do you determine whom to help and to what extent?