I was one of those who was brought up to believe that life’s fullest purpose was to serve mankind, to do good works, that the most joyful life was the most productive life of service. Two fellows who were often quoted to me were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Rabindranath Tagore, for self-evident reasons, but here’s a sample of why:
Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait. (Longfellow, last stanza, “A Psalm of Life,” 1838)
I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold, service was joy. (Tagore, 1861-1941)
Yet I had seen enough folk as I was growing up with a stoic sense of responsibility who were as joyless as the day is long, but who were happy enough to criticize those who lived for the joy of the coming life in eternity with their Lord as if their constant desire for heaven was somehow a serious flaw in their character. Escapists and weaklings, they were said to be, with no true love of humanity, living for the joy of what is yet to come when Christ returned instead of the practical demands of the day.