Something for Nothing

Giving something for nothing is impossible, regardless of how the recipient responds.

NEILLY WAS BORN in the northern part of Lewis and Harris, the largest island of the Outer Hebrides (an archipelago in Scotland). He was the oldest child of a harsh, drunken father and a mother who took her own life after the birth of her severely malformed fourth child.

Neilly tolerated being the “whipping boy” of the family in order to protect his siblings from their father’s brutality. He was beaten and cruelly mistreated for just about anything that angered his father. His father was frequently in and out of prison, so it was Neilly, although only a boy himself initially, who raised the three younger children. There was very little money and often very little to no food, and none of the children had much schooling. But eventually, they did grow up and leave home to make their way in life.

Neilly joined the army and fought in the Second World War. He became a prisoner of war and was starved and tortured, receiving many scars. When the war ended, he traveled to the United States and joined the police force in a large city. He married and became the proud father of a son. Several years later, his wife and child were shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. Neilly was devastated and blamed himself, believing it was because he had helped bring some big-time gangsters to justice.

He returned to the Hebrides Islands and moved into his deceased uncle’s empty, run-down house on the island of Papavray. He was bitter and resolved never to love anyone or trust another soul as long as he lived. The town folk, not knowing his sad history, only knew him as a grumpy person, unfriendly and unwelcoming, and they soon left him alone in his miserable, hermit-like lifestyle. He had no interest in keeping his house or himself clean and would only slip out of his house to gather dried peat or coal to provide some heat in the cold winters.

It was Maggie who refused to give up on the gruff old man. Daily, in spite of his rebuffs, she would leave a bit of food on his front porch. In time she would find a few small coins in the old bucket by the front door for her.

Neilly eventually became terminally ill with cancer. In spite of his surly ways, many tried to help, but he refused any assistance, even medication and treatment from the island’s kindly doctor.

It was still Maggie who faithfully kept up her daily visits, bringing a bit of food even when there was no more money left in the old bucket. During those terrible final days of his life, Maggie would brave the horrible smells in the house, and Neilly’s tantrums, to leave glasses of milk or soup by his bed. And it was Maggie who eventually found old Neilly passed away in death.



When we buy or sell, we are very exacting in calculating the best deals. If we make a less than desirable trade for our money, we usually have only ourselves to blame.

In most of our relationships with others, trading can also be involved. We give gifts either because we get gifts, or expect to get gifts. We trade kindness and favors with each other. Because of our human nature we sometimes even trade unkindness and neglect.

However, when we invest in a gift or favor for someone, only we know how much time, effort, and emotion goes into our efforts. The receiver, though, evaluates the gesture on an entirely different scale. Thus the reaction of the receiver may be very different from what the giver expected. We expect gratitude and recognition, and if reciprocation is not as we expected, we can feel hurt, angry, and undervalued. This kind of giving is not giving—it’s still just trading.


Another kind of giving was demonstrated by Maggie in the story above, and that is heart-giving. It has no strings attached, no expectation of returns. Maggie, as in the story of the Good Samaritan, demonstrated compassion and disinterested kindness to one who was of lowly status in society, yet in the greatest of desperate need.

Following Neilly’s death, a crudely scrawled will revealed that he had left everything to Maggie. “Everything” really consisted of nothing of worth. He also left a detailed sketch of his life’s story. It was only at that time that the community began to understand and deeply sympathize, wishing they had tried more to help the broken man. But it was Maggie’s kindly acts, relentlessly ministered to his needs, even in the face of harsh rebuffs, which revealed that in some way his wounded heart was touched.



Giving something for nothing is impossible, regardless of how the recipient responds. Giving always brings us returns. It uplifts the spirit, takes our thoughts off ourselves, brings joy to our hearts, and can even improve health.

Consider these little-recognized physical and mental benefits of ministering to others:

  1. Can bring out those “feel-good” endorphins, which promote happiness
  2. Can decrease blood-pressure
  3. Can help alleviate depression, stress, and anxiety
  4. Can contribute to living longer
  5. Can help lessen chronic pain
  6. Can give one a sense of purpose and satisfaction
  7. Can promote better sleep
  8. Can add new interest and enthusiasm in life
  9. Can improve one’s self-image
  10. Can reduce loneliness and a sense of isolation as one becomes more engaged in the community



Here are some possibilities for the impossible task of trying to give something for nothing:

*      Give a flower, or flowers, to someone who never receives any

*      See someone’s need and take care of it (following Maggie’s example)

*      Send a “Thank-You” card to someone who faithfully provides a service

*      Give a thoughtful compliment to someone

*      Visit a shut-in or phone a lonely person

*      Cook someone their favorite dish or meal

*      Take someone out for a meal or for ice-cream

*      Gather some friends and engage together in a community service project such as:

                              a. Cleaning up a yard

                              b. Taking a meal to the local fire station personnel

                              c. Delivering some surprise packages of basic groceries to a low-income neighborhood

*       Insert your own ideas here:











1. Christ’s Object Lessons, Ellen G. White.

2. Call the Nurse, Mary J. MacLeod, pp. 286-288.

3. You Are Not the Target, Laura Archera, pp.152-154.

4. scientific-benefits-helping-others