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From Schweitzer’s autobiography:

“One brilliant summer morning in Günsbach, during the Whitsuntide holidays—it was in 1896—as I awoke, the thought came to me that I must not accept this good fortune as a matter of course, but must give something in return.”

“While outside the birds sang, I reflected on this thought and before I had gotten up I came to the conclusion that until I was 30 I could consider myself justified in devoting myself to scholarship and the arts. But after that, I would devote myself directly to serving humanity. I had already tried many times to find the meaning that lay hidden inside in the saying of Jesus. Whosoever would save his life shall lose it. And whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, and the Gospels shall save it. Now I had found the answer. I could now add outward to inward happiness.” [1]

And so, in 1905, having reached the age of thirty, he decided that he must devote himself to serving mankind. He decided to become a medical doctor working in Africa. What appealed to Schweitzer was that this new form of serving would not consist of preaching the religion of love, but he would be practicing it.

His family and friends tried to dissuade him. Why would a successful author, lecturer, and organ recitalist suddenly want to change direction so dramatically? Think of the uncertainty!

Have you ever thought of changing your life in a dramatic way? Maybe you were tired of your humdrum existence. Maybe you wanted your life to be more meaningful. In his autobiography, Schweitzer has a warning. He was worried that he would inspire readers to follow his example to too great a degree.

He warned that taking on a big responsibility like he did—independently—a person needs to be able to survive financially. He needs lots of support. Careful consideration is important before making such a big change in one’s life. Volunteering or working as an employee of an organization that does good work would be wiser for most people, whether in their neighbourhood or in another part of the world.

In 1905, despite his family’s disapproval Schweitzer plunged into the study of medicine. Throughout his exhausting years of study he continued preaching and lecturing. He also continued publishing books. Schweitzer won his medical degree in 1912. The year before that, he married Helene Bresslau, a professor’s daughter who had studied nursing in order to work with him in Africa. In 1919 the couple would have a daughter, Rhena.

[1] Out of My Life and Thought, Albert Schweitzer, P.82

This has been Part 34 of the series A Life Worth Living. Read Part 35 – Founding the Hospital