“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
William Borden was born into the lap of luxury as an heir to the Borden Dairy estate. For his high school graduation present in 1904, his parents gave the 16 year old young man a trip around the world. He traveled though Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The more places he visited, the more burdened he became for the hurting people of the world.
Finally, Borden wrote home about his “desire to be a missionary.” One friend expressed disbelief that he was “throwing himself away as a missionary.” In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”
In 1905 Borden arrived at Yale University. Immediately he was seen as a person with a resolute mission to make a difference. He started a small Bible study which, by his senior year, had 1,000 of Yale’s 1,300 students joining him. He reached out to the widows and orphans and disabled in New Haven and even started the Yale Hope Mission.
It was during his years in Yale that Borden focused on the needs of the Arabic speaking Kansu people in China. Upon graduation from Yale, he turned down some high-paying job offers and in his Bible he wrote two more words: “No retreats.”
After he graduated from Princeton Seminary he sailed for China, stopping in Egypt to learn Arabic. While in Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis and within a month, the 25 year old Borden was dead. Prior to his death, he had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”
Mary Taylor wrote about him in the book Borden of Yale ‘09 (1926). When word of Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., nearly every American newspaper carried the story. Taylor wrote, “A wave of sorrow went around the world…Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice.”
No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
As I read that story I was reminded of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) where he said in habit #2, “Begin with the End in Mind.” Covey says that all things are created twice, i.e. first mental and second physical. “The physical creation follows the mental just as a building follows a blueprint. If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”
To help us “Begin with the End in Mind,” Covey suggests that we write a personal mission statement which captures the priorities and values that matter to us. Some would call this a kind of bucket list, what they might want to do before they die.
One of the most helpful disciplines I have ever practiced has been to prepare a personal mission statement. As a friend of mine once said, “There are a lot of good things that need to be done in the world but you can’t do them all.” The more I apply my personal mission statement, the more I trust I will be able to say: No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
I am not exactly sure what Woody Allen meant when he said, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else,” but I am sure that at 25 years of age William Borden would never have said that.
We all have a certain amount of time and a list of opportunities, a network of relationships and an array of resources, and a bundle of ideas. The list could be endless.
Like William Borden, at the end of our days may we be able to say: No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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