In the General Conference Priesthood session of April 2012, President Monson said, “There are feet to steady, hands to grasp, minds to encourage, hearts to inspire, and souls to save. The blessings of eternity await you. Yours is the privilege to be not spectators but participants on the stage of service.”
He continued, “Let us learn and contemplate our duty. Let us be willing and worthy to serve. Let us in the performance of our duty follow in the footsteps of the Master.”
The Savior exemplified a consistent pattern of service. He served in both word and deed nourishing the body and the spirit. This service was offered to those He knew and loved as well as those who were strangers to Him. The Savior fed the 5,000. He washed the feet of His disciples. Jesus performed miracles of healing and even raised people from the dead. He taught and clarified doctrines, testified of the Father, set the example of righteous and obedient living, and ultimately sacrificed for our sins that we may be worthy to gain exaltation.
Because we want to follow the example of our Savior and our goal is to strive to become like Him as much as we possibly can, we must strive to do our duty and serve others. President Monson quoted a poem that I think beautifully articulates how this translates into our reality. The words read:
I slept and dreamt
That life was joy
I awoke and saw
That life was duty
I acted and behold
Duty was joy.
President Monson also quoted Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “I know what pleasure is, for I have done good work.”
How do we transform the mundane duties and seeming required service in our lives into this joy and pleasure President Monson talks about?
In some cases, the transformation is inherent. Often when we serve others are efforts are met with appreciation and gratitude. Other times we are rewarded with a personal sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, however, the benefits of our service don’t come as readily. When that is the case, I have felt particularly grateful for this simple reminder by Nephi who said, “… ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ that He will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.”
A few years ago we lived in student housing at the University of Utah. Although there were a handful of students working on graduate and doctorate level degrees who were closer to us in age, I felt like I might as well have been the grandmother of the ward for the age difference. I was over 30 and many of the sisters I was rubbing shoulders with were young 20’s. One or two of them hadn’t even entered their 20’s and had literally just moved out of their parents’ home for the first time, freshly back from their honeymoons. This particular demographic in our ward brought into focus the struggles and exhaustion associated with raising a very young family. Many of these women were first time mothers or had multiple very young children under tow. Often discussions in Relief Society centered on the seeming thankless, mundane and repetitive tasks of meal preparation, diaper changing, and dishwashing – which, by the way, we all did by hand as the student housing wasn’t equipped with dishwashers. During that time, this scripture jumped out at me and I learned that even things as simple and routine as serving in our families can become great blessings that really are, “for our good” if we take the time to ask Heavenly Father to consecrate our efforts. When we do this, our loads are lightened, work becomes less cumbersome, and the joy of service enters our hearts.
Another important aspect of service is love. Service and love are much like the chicken and the egg. It isn’t really clear to me which comes first but in all honestly, the answer to that question is irrelevant. When we serve someone our love for them deepens. When we love someone it is easier to serve them. Similarly, when we recognize the love we have for our Heavenly Father and feel a sense of gratitude for the blessings he has poured down upon us, we are more willing and eager to work and sacrifice in an effort to serve others.
There are times when service requires huge amounts of dedication, sacrifice and effort. Of times like these, Elder Hales shared a personal story. He recounted an experience he had while in Harvard business school:
I was at Harvard Business School. I was stretched to my capacity. In the first year of that institution, the teachers take away every bit of self-confidence you have, no matter what your background is before you get there, so that you learn what it’s like to have to achieve more than you’ve ever done in your life before. The program is designed to teach you how to think under pressure. They try to duplicate real life.
He said, “It is the only time in my life that I ever questioned an assignment. I went home to talk to my wife and told her, ‘There is a chance of failing in my schooling if I become an Elders quorum president.’
He continued, “She said to me the words which have helped for many years: ‘Bob, I would rather have an active priesthood holder than a man who holds a master’s degree from Harvard.’ But,” he said, “as she put her arms around me, she said, ‘We’ll do them both.”
With that example in mind he instructs, “For every woman and man here the question will come in life, ‘When is the time to serve? When is the right time?’ The only answer I can give you is, ‘When you are asked.’”
Answering a call when we are asked isn’t necessarily always comfortable, or, as Elder Hales pointed out, convenient or easy. To that end, President Monson said, “At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.”
My son Ammon was a good example to us this week as he was extended a call to serve. On Friday I received a message asking if he would be willing to talk in primary. I called him in from the room where he was playing and asked him if he would accept that assignment. He fudged for a moment and thinking out loud he said, “Well… I shouldn’t say no… but I don’t know what to say.” Pleased with his desire to serve, but understanding his reluctance, Andrew and I were both quick to explain that he would receive a topic and we would help him know what to say. But neither of those things would have made a difference if he hadn’t had a willing heart. Similarly, we may be asked to accept callings that feel too big for us or have us concerned that we may not adequately fill them. But as we move forward in faith, the enabling power of the atonement can compensate for the areas in which we lack. As we work in partnership with the Lord, we will be able to accomplish things we wouldn’t have expected of ourselves.
Other times our service may come more simply and not require as much from us. Although I think that Heavenly Father does present us with service opportunities designed to help us broaden our talents and grow who we are, I think that the majority of the time, he wants us to use our inherent and already existing gifts to serve others in a way that only we can do. Service can be simple and joyful. We had an example of this shared in Relief Society recently when one sister spoke of having seen a friend mention on Facebook that she had been having a bad day and just really wanted to indulge in some ice cream. Without giving it much thought, this relief society sister figured that was an easy wish to grant and she grabbed some ice cream from the store and delivered it to her friend. What seemed to be so easy and non-assuming to our relief society sister proved to be a touching act of service to the recipient.
I was once on the receiving end of such a gesture. About a year ago, eight months pregnant and freshly planted in south east Alaska after having spent most of my adult life within a twenty minute drive of my entire extended family, I became miserably ill with a cold that continued to progress until not only my pregnant bladder was keeping me up and night, but I was genuinely unable to lie down and sleep because the cough was so constant and extreme. I felt miserable and unable to function. I’m not the best housekeeper to start with and things got even worse. One day a simple knock on the door helped me know I wasn’t alone. It was a sister in the ward. And though I don’t think I would have appreciated her help any less if she had been, she wasn’t there on assignment. She wasn’t in the relief society presidency nor was she my visiting teacher. She was a sister in the ward who just wanted to come see how I was doing. I almost didn’t answer the door – I was still in my pajamas and feeling pretty miserable. I think my curiosity must have gotten the best of me, though, since I didn’t know anyone and wondered who would be there. She saw the state I was in and immediately invited herself in to clean my kitchen. If I hadn’t been so sick I would have been mortified. The counters were piled with unwashed dishes and the floors were in desperate need of sweeping. It seemed like it should be awkward to have this woman whose name I barely knew and had only just met once or twice come into my home with it and me in such a state. But she was cheerful and kind and willing to serve me in a way that brightened my entire month. Her simple act of service seemed like a saving grace and came at just the right moment.
Sometimes I wonder about her version of the story. Had she prayed that morning to know who might need her help? Was she a person who felt comfortable knocking on a strangers door, or was that a challenging act of faith? Did she know beforehand why she was coming to my house? How did she determine how to best serve me and do it in a way that seemed so natural and comfortable to me when it would normally feel so awkward and embarrassing to me and potentially to her as well?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that the spirit of revelation can help us in our service. At one point I had the opportunity to be responsible for the personal ministry of the women in my ward. There was one particular sister who had been facing several health and financial challenges. The focus in serving her had been in addressing these very big concerns. As I went to her house one evening, I felt prompted to shift gears and spend more time focusing on her spiritual needs. I found myself led to share a specific scripture and followed it with my own testimony of the things taught in that verse. The spirit was strong as our hearts were opened up to each other. Tears of healing and peace were shared. I was able to answer questions she hadn’t realized she had. The answers she received helped her recognize privileges in the gospel she wasn’t taking advantage of– something she determined to remedy. She later wrote me a sweet thank you note. My memory of that night – sharing a scripture and simple testimony, along with the thank you note she gave me, is a highlight of the time I spent in that calling.
But even these examples are more complex than service might be. When we moved to Ketchikan last year, we were happy to be there. We felt that our decision to go there was incredibly inspired and previous experiences had led us to be very confident that if it was Heavenly Father’s plan for us, we would be blessed more abundantly than we could imagine. That said, there was the part of us that was sad to leave our life behind. Just 15 months prior to our move we had FINALLY bought our first house. We LOVED our little house and expected to live there indefinitely. We had visions of spending 20+ years there. So even though we trusted in the Lord, it wasn’t without some melancholy.
The day we closed on our house was especially poignant for me. It should have been a great day of celebration – we came away from the sale with a significant chunk of change. But the sale of our house suddenly made everything seem real and final. We weren’t just on a fun new adventure – we were really carving out a new life away from everything and everyone we knew and loved. I was overcome with nostalgia for my old life and I expressed some of my feelings of homesickness on Facebook. One of the sisters in the ward responded with a kind comment and said that she would be sure to give me a hug in church on the following Sunday in an effort to abate some of my homesickness. Just that simple gesture buoyed me up and I was grateful for her kindness.
By the time Sunday rolled around I had all but forgotten the whole situation. I really had adjusted to Ketchikan quite well and despite those moments of missing the life we left behind us, I was happy to be there. But after Sacrament meeting I was approached by a sister who explained, “Sister ____ said she promised you a hug today. But she had to hurry to primary to be ready for her class so I am here to take you to her.” And before I knew it, I was being drug through the church building in search of my hug. I have always been touched with how determined this sister was to make sure I felt cared for and loved – a hug was a simple gesture, but one that she was certain to not be careless about and meticulously followed through with.
Service is something that can bring peace and blessings into our lives. Several years ago I found myself feeling pretty sad about the course my life had taken. I was getting to an age where I felt pretty sorry for myself that I had “only” two children without any more seeming forthcoming. I am the oldest of six children, had always imagined myself mothering a larger family. I missed the chaos of a full house. After some deliberation, I decided to “borrow” my nieces and nephews and offered to host a weekly playdate with the cousins on Friday nights. At that time Andrew was working those evening, so date night wasn’t an option for me anyway. I offered free babysitting to my siblings and they were delighted for the opportunity to get some child free time. This service was healing for me. I found joy in the time I spent in charge of 5+ kids ages six and younger. During that phase, instead of those more quiet times with just my two boys being a painful and poignant reminder of what I was missing, the contrast helped me appreciate what I did have. I became more content with the blessings I had been given and more willing to trust my life to the Lord. I found joy in my service and was blessed with an increased gratitude for my own circumstances.
Sometimes service is big and noticeable and takes huge efforts. Other times it is simple and easy. Often times it is quiet and subtle and goes unrecognized by most despite the fact that it takes real time and work. Sister Dalton, previously the YW General President, shared an experience she had with the building of the Conference Center. She said:
Several years ago, as this Conference Center was being built and nearing completion, I entered this sacred building on the balcony level in a hard hat and safety glasses, ready to vacuum the carpet that my husband was helping to install. Where the rostrum now stands was a front-end loader moving dirt, and the dust in this building was thick. When it settled, it did so on the new carpet. My part was to vacuum. And so I vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed. After three days my little vacuum burned up!
The afternoon before the first general conference in this beautiful building, my husband called me. He was about to install the last piece of carpet—under this historic pulpit.
He asked, “What scripture should I write on the back of this carpet?”
Sister Dalton told her husband:
“Mosiah 18:9: ‘Stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.’”She concluded:
Years ago when I was vacuuming this carpet—trying to act well my small part—I didn’t realize that I would one day stand with my feet on the carpet under this pulpit.
Like Sister Dalton, we don’t know what Heavenly Father has in store for us. But if we create in ourselves a pattern of service I know that He will use is in ways that we wouldn’t have imagined for ourselves. Whether our assignment be as seemingly lowly as vacuuming so hard that our machine breaks, or as intimidating as speaking from the pulpit in General Conference, if we follow the promptings we receive and accept the callings we are extended we will be blessed. Through our service, we will become instruments in His hands – able to do His work. In fulfilling that duty, we will be filled with joy.