Talks & Lessons: Actively Seeking Out Opportunities to Serve

This was a talk about service I gave in Sacrament Meeting on December 9, 2012. Colin and I both spoke this day. You can find his talk here.

Brother Rigby caught me off guard when, mistaking his friendly handshake as nothing more than an act of fellowship while leaving the chapel, he asked if I’d be willing to speak in Sacrament Meeting. Seeing as we’re still new to the ward, I didn’t have the sense to avoid eye contact on his approach. However, I am glad that he asked because (and don’t most of us feel this way when we’re preparing a talk?) I really needed to ponder my feelings about the topic I was assigned.

Service. It’s such a broad subject, I didn’t know where to begin. Who to serve? How to serve? What does “service” mean? But I’ve decided to touch on three parts: 1) Moving beyond sympathy for others into action, 2) Committing to find opportunities to serve on a daily basis, and 3) Teaching our children to value serving others.

Busy. That is the single word I would use to describe my life. I am the mom of four children under the age of eight, which includes twin 2-year-old boys. There is no doubt that my life right now is one foot in the door of Chaos. Just the day-to-day living is jam-packed with diapers, and cleaning, and cooking, and laughing, and whining, and driving to school, and peanut butter hands… Sometimes, I consider it a miracle that everyone makes it through the day dressed and fed. It is no wonder that when I consider the three aspects of charity (giving of time, of talents, and of things), giving my time in service seems like the weak link in the chain.

But as I look around the congregation, I see that my station in life is not unique. Not in the least, actually! Most of you are currently in the same phase or have recently come out of it. So, holding on to that excuse as a means of diluting my service no longer seems legitimate.

Yes, it’s true that serving my family is my number one calling at this time. I feel comfortable maintaining that as my first and foremost responsibility. “There is a time and a season for all things” is one of my favorite phrases, but I realize that I must be careful to not use it as a blanket excuse not to actively seek out opportunities for service.

Confessions from the pulpit: I have not made serving others outside of my home a big enough responsibility. However, I have covenanted to do so. “Saints are uniquely committed to sacrifice. In partaking of the sacrament each week, we witness our commitment to serve the Lord and our fellowmen. In sacred temple ceremonies we covenant to sacrifice and consecrate our time and talents for the welfare of others.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009) Putting aside my family responsibilities, my church callings and assignments, there is more that I can do. It is not enough just to have the desire.

President Thomas S. Monson speaks to this very issue in a Conference talk entitled “What Have I Done for Someone Today?” He says, “I am confident it is the intention of each member of the Church to serve and to help those in need. At baptism we covenanted to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” How many times has your heart been touched as you have witnessed the need of another? How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often has day-to-day living interfered and you’ve left it for others to help, feeling that “oh, surely someone will take care of that need.” (Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”, November 2009) I need to do more than just intend.

Luke 9:24 says, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Serve the Lord by serving others. Give him your life. I am falling short.

Turn sympathy into action.

I’d like to think of myself as a sympathetic and compassionate person, but I’ve struggled to channel that into something productive. And though by no means are we rich, it is always much easier for me to give some thing as opposed to some of my time. However, I know that we are instruments in the hands of God. He needs us to carry out his purposes and bless others. Either we can assist him or we can miss out on witnessing His work come to pass. How good does it feel when we carry out an act of service for someone else? Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate who receives the greater blessing: the one serving or the recipient of the service.

President Eyring’s talk, “Opportunities to Do Good,” explains how to act on the compassion we experience.

“Our Heavenly Father hears the prayers of His children across the earth pleading for food to eat, for clothes to cover their bodies, and for the dignity that would come from being able to provide for themselves. Those pleas have reached Him since He placed men and women on the earth.

“You learn of those needs where you live and from across the world. Your heart is often stirred with feelings of sympathy. When you meet someone struggling to find employment, you feel that desire to help. You feel it when you go into the home of a widow and see that she has no food. You feel it when you see photographs of crying children sitting in the ruins of their home destroyed by an earthquake or by fire.

“Because the Lord hears their cries and feels your deep compassion for them, He has from the beginning of time provided ways for His disciples to help. He has invited His children to consecrate their time, their means, and themselves to join with Him in serving others.” (Henry B. Erying, “Opportunities to do Good,” April 2011)

Allow the Lord to use those feelings to teach you how to help. President Eyring said, “[The] 1,500 or more Church member volunteers in Australia who came to help and to comfort [the flooding victims in Queensland] turned their feelings of sympathy into a decision to act on their covenants. I have seen the blessings that come to the person in need who receives help and to the person who seizes the opportunity to give it.” (Henry B. Erying, “Opportunities to do Good,” April 2011)

Find opportunities to serve on a daily basis.

The general Relief Society President, Linda K. Burton, gave a fantastic talk this last General Conference called “First Observe, Then Serve.” The title alone is wisdom enough. If we only look around, even in our own sphere of influence, we can see that there are ways that we can help others. She relayed an experience where a six-year-old Primary child made a difference. He said:

“When I was chosen to be a class helper, I could choose a friend to work with me. I picked [a boy in my class who bullied me] because he never gets chosen by others. I wanted to make him feel good.”

What did this child observe? He noticed that the class bully never got chosen. What did he do to serve? He simply chose him to be his friend as a class helper.” (Linda K. Burton, “First Observe, Then Serve,” October 2012)

Simple ways that only require us to pay attention to others. Often, they don’t require much time at all.

We can also pray for experiences to be shown to us. I’m sure many of us can think of a time when we’ve asked the Lord to open our hearts to opportunities to bless others only to have the Spirit guide us to make a phone call, or send a letter, or stop by someone’s house with a plate of cookies just when needed.

Above all, we need to be kind. Sister Burton said, “We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness. … We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.” (Linda K. Burton, “First Observe, Then Serve,” October 2012) Smile at others, even if they are strangers. Help someone feel valued. Include others that may not feel welcome. All of these are simple ways to lift burdens and show Christlike love.

Sometimes, I get ahead of myself and fixate on the great needs of the world. I’m sure you all could think of at least one organization or group or even individual which exudes charity and service. I’ve had the privilege of working with one such organization that was actually started by a member of the Santa Barbara Stake called Angels Foster Care of Santa Barbara. It is through her work that we have three of our precious children. Another amazing group I personally know feeds the homeless in Salt Lake City. It was started by my “second family,” the mother and two sisters of my best childhood friend. Soul Food USA takes food that they’ve lovingly prepared to a shelter every month, all of it started because they simply saw a need and acted upon it. I find myself wishing I could do something grand like that. And then the guilt creeps in. But I’ve reminded myself that I can help in other ways that are also important, just on a different scale. Sometimes we feel that we don’t have much to offer. Maybe we feel like our talents won’t be enough to bless others. President Eyring said this: “God knows our gifts. My challenge to you and to me is to pray to know the gifts we have been given, to know how to develop them, and to recognize the opportunities to serve others that God provides us.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Help Them Aim High,” October 2012)

In January of this year I had major surgery that required an 8 week recovery. I couldn’t lift anything over 20 pounds. You can imagine the damper that put on my daily life. My sweet husband saved up enough work leave that he could spend 4 weeks of my recovery at home taking care of the kids, but it was still a burden on the family. This experience required that I receive service from others, something I’ve always struggled accepting. Wonderful friends and Relief Society sisters took turns bringing meals and taking Warren to and from school for several weeks. Individually, they were small acts but combined made a huge difference. I was incredibly grateful for their compassion and service. Elder Oaks reminded us that Mother Teresa, one of the most outstanding examples of selfless service, once said: “We can do no great things,” [she] maintained, “only small things with great love.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009)

Involve our children in service.

Besides leading by example and providing opportunities for service, explain the principle of service and why we do it. Elder Oaks made it clear, “Our Savior teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009)

Establish a standard for your children. I love this story that President Monson told.

“A few years ago I read an article written by Jack McConnell, MD. He grew up in the hills of southwest Virginia in the United States as one of seven children of a Methodist minister and a stay-at-home mother. Their circumstances were very humble. He recounted that during his childhood, every day as the family sat around the dinner table, his father would ask each one in turn, “And what did you do for someone today?” The children were determined to do a good turn every day so they could report to their father that they had helped someone. Dr. McConnell calls this exercise his father’s most valuable legacy, for that expectation and those words inspired him and his siblings to help others throughout their lives. As they grew and matured, their motivation for providing service changed to an inner desire to help others.” (Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done for Someone Today?”, November 2009)

This is a practice we implemented for a time (I’d like to get back into it, actually) and I can testify that it makes a noticeable difference in attitudes.

President Eyring gave an example of what he did with his children to help them understand the importance of being a servant of the Lord, though he stated that no wood carving would actually be necessary for us to follow his lead. He said,

“With my own children, I prayed for revelation to know how I could help each of them individually prepare for specific opportunities to serve God. And then I tried to help them visualize, hope, and work for this future. I carved a board for each son with a quotation from scripture that described his special gifts and an image that represented this gift. Beneath the picture and the legend, I carved the dates of each boy’s baptism and ordination into priesthood offices, with his height marked at the date of each milestone.

“When my daughters were young, I saw that we could help others feel the love of those beyond the veil, throughout the generations. I knew that love comes from service and inspires hope of life eternal.

“So we carved breadboards on which we placed a loaf of homemade bread and went together to deliver our offering to widows, widowers, and families. The legend I carved on each of those breadboards read, “J’aime et J’espere,” French for “I love and I hope.” The evidence of their unique spiritual gifts appeared not just on the boards I carved but more clearly as we distributed them to those who needed, in the midst of pain or loss, reassurance that the love of the Savior and His Atonement could produce a perfect brightness of hope. This is life eternal for my daughters and for each of us.” (Henry B. Eyring, “Help Them Aim High,” October 2012) Not only did he pray to know how to help his children grow as individuals, but he gave them tangible reminders and, more importantly, opportunities to actually serve others.

Many of us may remember the story that President Gordon B. Hinckley told of his days as a new missionary complaining to his family how he felt it was a waste of his time. Then we may also remember how his father wrote back to him in gentle rebuke telling him to forget himself and dive into service. Because of his father’s guidance, later, “Elder Hinckley would say, “He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” April 2009)

The Christmas Season makes it easy to find ways to uplift, cheer, and help others. It is my prayer that we will all commit to actively seek out opportunities to serve with glad hearts, no matter the time of the year or our station in life.

“As I have loved you, love one another,” the Savior commanded. Let us all be willing to do so in more abundance.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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