Living for Others
Dr. Albert Rossi · February 10, 2012
Part of becoming a healing presence is to share our lives with others without the expectation of reward or acknowledgement. Dr. Rossi shares the story of Johnny Appleseed as an example.
We are called to be a healing presence to others by God. It’s God’s call, his inner working within us, allowing us to be his conduits through which fire—his fire—passes, giving strength and hope to others. And from our point of view, it’s a matter of perspective. We want to allow God to use us, to work through us, to surprise us with some of the opportunities and people he sends to us and how he uses us.
One time, I was at a meeting, not even a particularly religious meeting, and a woman simply said that for her, life is a treasure hunt, and she kind of looks for or becomes aware of the treasures God puts in her life through the day. And then she simply recounted three treasures that God had put in her life thus far that day. And they were encounters with other people. And it was clear that she was aware that the treasure was interactive between her and the other person, and from her point of view, the other person was able to leave strengthened.
Well, I remember many things were said at that meeting, and the meeting was years ago, but I still remember that. And I remember just after she said it, a little bell went off in my head, saying, “Al, you just heard something God wanted you to hear. There’s an importance there, so, remember it.” And I happened to be taking notes during the meeting, and I took that note and many others, and then I went to my hotel room. And in the summary notes, it was clear to me that that note jumped off the page.
Well, I was in a different city, so—it happened to be a Southern city. And at the airport, as I was going through the security, an older man was there and looked me right in the eye and said, “Good morning, sir.”
And I could tell that—I don’t know how to say it—but, he was a man of respect and integrity. So I said to him, “You know, I just heard this little story. I don’t know if you’re interested in it, but a woman said to me that life is like a treasure hunt and God puts treasures in her life throughout the day.”
And the man standing there on the other side of the little conveyer belt paused, and he paused for, I don’t know, maybe ten seconds. And he looked me in the eye, and he said, “You just made my day.” And then I went through security, and on to my airplane.
That keeps coming back to me. That is to say, there’s a perspective there of God providing for me in my day opportunities and endeavors that are real treasures. And isn’t that like Matthew 13, where Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found, and when he found it, covered it up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” So that’s the end of that quote. There’s a treasure that we—a perceptual treasure we can become aware of as we go through our day and meet other people. And we can imagine the joy of that man when he found that.
And I’m going to play a little piece of music for us to bring music into our pursuit of being a healing presence.
Priest: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Choir: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Priest: It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High!
Choir: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Priest: To declare Thy mercy in the morning, and Thy truth by night!
Choir: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The field in Matthew—“The Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field”—the field is our awareness that God can and does use us to be a healing presence to others whom he sends to us for that very purpose. And in a sense, it’s a surprise. Everyone we meet can be a surprise, a new moment encounter.
And in another sense, as we look back on our day or week, we’re not surprised that we were of such value, such importance, such power, such fire to other people. Why? Because that’s what the Lord said he’s going to do through us. Greater things than he did he said we’re going to do. Not that we’re going to do of our own at all, but that we expect, for lack of a better word, greatness. We expect to go forth with him through our day.
And then we can also ask the question, “Okay, there are treasures. What is it—is there a metaphor that we could use for living a life like that: being a healing presence for others? Do we need to look for results of our interactions?” No. We simply know that in that moment, we did the best we could and try to strengthen the people. And we go on in our lives and in a sense don’t look back. We don’t look for thanks or approval or approbation or even an indication that my little intervention made a difference. No, no, no, no, no. It’s God. And we keep going.
And I’m reminded of the American folk hero Johnny Appleseed, who was a real human being, John Chapman, who lived—oh, I don’t know, 150 years or so ago. And a very interesting person. Johnny Appleseed did “nothing more than” walk across this country from—I think he was born in Massachusetts, and then as he grew, was a man who went with a little burlap sack of apple seeds on his side, and he carried the Bible. He was a religious man.
And he would simply go to farms and ask if they would like apple seeds, apple orchards, and would stay in wherever they provided, a barn or something, and would work and plant the seeds nicely in rows or even along the roadside as he went. And he did that systematically through—down through Pennsylvania and Ohio and Indiana and down through the South. And that’s what he did. He didn’t ride a horse; he didn’t lead an army; he didn’t do great things.
However, Johnny Appleseed has his picture on a US postage stamp, a five cent stamp. And I know that there’s a—there are a number of parks, recreational parks, large parks named after Johnny Appleseed. He’s a folk hero. He carries on. There’s a city in South Carolina that has a Johnny Appleseed life little presentation in the town every year, where they act out his life.
The question is, why is it that this man of such quiet, steady, but unheralded work could become such a folk hero? There’s songs about Johnny Appleseed. And frankly, I became smitten by the question, “How was it this happened?”
So one summer, a few summers ago—I live alone, and my wife is dead by nineteen years now, so I take my vacations alone, like some kind of a retreat, and go see something. I went to see someone, a long drive, and decided I would continue that drive to Johnny Appleseed’s tombstone. I just wanted to see where he was buried. So I did that. And it happens to be in—I think in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
And passing by, I saw other large parks with swimming pools and such, Johnny Appleseed parks. And in Fort Wayne, there’s a large park with a little place to camp, and then swimming pools and ball fields and so on. And there are acres upon acres. Then within that, it’s not a cemetery; there’s simply a hill where one walks up, and on top of the hill is a little black wrought iron fence and a tree. One enters the little gate, and then there’s Johnny Appleseed’s tombstone.
And the question I asked was, “How is it that this man is so much in our hearts?” And the answer was right there on top of his tombstone. Little small brass plaque that said, “Johnny Appleseed,” birthdate, death date, and the quote, “He lived for others.”
“He lived for others.”
Johnny Appleseed walked one way. He planted apple trees, apple seeds, and then kept right on walking, walking, walking, walking, and then died. That is to say, he didn’t look back. He didn’t retrace his steps and say, “I wonder how my little saplings are doing.” No, no, no, no, no. One way, without needing the fruits.
And that’s an example of—a sort of paradigm, a metaphor for us in terms of healing presence. We’re aware that we want to be and God will use us as a healing presence. And we don’t look for data to say, “Oh, yes, that was the case.” Sometimes we might get that; sometimes not. But either way, as in Matthew 13—the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in the field—the field, for our purposes now, can be our awareness of the other people that we interact with and the way God goes through us to influence them.